NBC Hits Back on Sharon Osbourne’s MS Discrimination Charges
Longtime TV talent-show judge Sharon Osbourne will be quitting her role on NBC’s America’s Got Talent, the New York Post reported on Monday.
Her reason? The 59-year-old mother of three is livid over the network’s recent firing of her son, Jack Osbourne, from the show Stars Earn Stripes mere weeks after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis—and two days before the show’s start date.
“It just can’t be fake,” Sharon Osbourne said to the paper. “It’s discrimination, and it was badly handled.”
The Stars Earn Stripes reality show pits celebrities like Dean Cain, Nick Lachey and Todd Palin against one another in “complicated missions inspired by real military exercises,” as described on the show’s homepage.
According to the Post, Jack offered to purchase his own insurance policy to allay the network’s risks, but to no avail.
On Tuesday, NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt issued the following statement:
First, we have the deepest affection for Sharon Osbourne and consider her to be part of the NBC family. And our hearts go out to her, Ozzy, Jack and his family at this time. We hold medical information in strict confidence and therefore cannot comment specifically about Jack, but as a company that cares deeply about the health and safety of everyone on our shows - especially one like ‘Stars Earn Stripes’ that requires dangerous water stunts, strenuous physical activity, and uses live ammunition - we required all potential participants to undergo medical vetting to ensure that they could safely participate. Although we did not ask Jack to participate in the competition, we were able to offer him two substantial alternative roles on the show, both of which he declined. This network does not discriminate on any basis.
It may be wrong to fault the network for making personnel choices intended to avoid bodily injury to its talent. And perhaps the “two substantial alternative roles” NBC offered Jack Osbourne were presented in good faith, but none of that changes the fact that discrimination is very real for the approximately 400,000 Americans who have MS (estimates vary greatly because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not require U.S. physicians to report new cases).
Most disheartening, perhaps, is that MS discrimination may even exist in organizations designed to defend against MS discrimination.
In 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a discrimination lawsuit on behalf of Elisa Stamey, a registered nurse with over 15 years of experience who was terminated shortly after filling out a medical questionnaire in which she revealed her MS diagnosis. According the suit, Stamey’s firing was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employers from making employment decisions based on a disability or perceived disability and covers all Americans with MS.
Most disheartening, perhaps, is that MS discrimination may even exist in organizations designed to defend against MS discrimination. Mary Bullock, who worked as an administrative law judge for the EEOC from 1999 to 2007, is now suing the EEOC for the second time, alleging that it refused to promote her and enforced stricter deadlines than her non-disabled colleages because of her MS.
It’s easy to see why a mama bear like Sharon Osbourne would take NBC’s firing personally and come to the defense of her cub. But she can take solace in the fact that son Jack, a new father, seems to have taken his diagnosis, and all that comes with it, in stride.
“…I got really sad for about two days, and after that I realized: ‘Being angry and upset is not going to do anything at this point; if anything it’s only going to make it worse,” he said to CNN back in June. “ ‘Adapt and overcome’ is my new motto.”
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Oliver Lee has been covering social justice and other issues for TakePart since 2009. Originally from Baltimore, he lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn. Email Oliver | @oliverung