The on-air positivity shared by Ellen DeGeneres on her talk show does not transfer to the staff behind the scenes, according to interviews conducted by Buzzfeed News in which former employees discuss the “toxic work environment” on set.

Buzzfeed News spoke with one current employee and 10 former employees for a piece published Thursday, which alleged that employees were subject to racism and were fired for requesting time off.

DeGeneres has been in the spotlight recently as rumors have spread that she isn’t as nice as she appears on camera. In March, comedian Kevin T. Porter tweeted, asking people to share stories about Ellen being mean, and received more than 2,600 replies. But, employees alleged that their treatment had almost nothing to do with DeGeneres herself, as employees were told not to speak to the star. They said culture is perpetuated by the executive producers at The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Ed Glavin, Mary Connelly and Andy Lassner.

“People focus on rumors about how Ellen is mean and everything like that, but that’s not the problem,” one former employee said. “The issue is these three executive producers running the show who are in charge of all these people [and] who make the culture and are putting out this feeling of bullying and being mean. They feel that everybody who works at The Ellen Show is lucky to work there – ‘So if you have a problem, you should leave because we’ll hire someone else because everybody wants to work here.’”

One former employee recounted the racist “microagressions” she said she faced working on the show, including being told by a main writer, “I’m sorry, I only know the names of the white people who work here.” She said when she pushed for inclusivity and diversity training and a wage to match a recent hire at her same level, she was only reprimanded.

Another employee told Buzzfeed that after a year of working at the show they took medical leave for a month to check into a mental health facility following a suicide attempt. When they returned, their position was “eliminated.”

“Some of the producers talk openly in public about addiction and mental health awareness, but they’re the reason there’s a stigma,” they said. “They definitely don’t practice what they preach with the ‘be kind’ mantra.”

A separate employee said they were fired after they spent three weeks on medical leave after a car accident, worked remotely for two days to go to a funeral, and then took three days off for another funeral.

In all, the employees said that those who bought in to the “be kind mantra” would be favored, and those who pushed back against the “toxic” culture were not rehired after their contracts were up.

“They hire people who maybe are inexperienced with how a functional, nontoxic work environment actually is, or someone who just wants to be in that atmosphere so bad that they’ll put up with it,” a former employee claimed. “They kind of feed off of that, like, ‘This is Ellen; this is as good as it gets. You’ll never find anything better than this.’”

“I remember feeling depressed and horrible and sad and just thinking that I can’t leave but I want to leave,” one former employee said. “Everyone was unhappy unless you were one of those people being favored.”

The three executive producers on the show responded to the story with a joint statement to Buzzfeed News: “Over the course of nearly two decades, 3,000 episodes, and employing over 1000 staff members, we have strived to create an open, safe, and inclusive work environment,” they said. “We are truly heartbroken and sorry to learn that even one person in our production family has had a negative experience. It’s not who we are and not who we strive to be, and not the mission Ellen has set for us.”

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