A black meteorologist said she was fired from her job at an ABC affiliate in Louisiana after responding to racially-problematic remarks left on the station's Facebook page.
The Maynard Institute blog Journal-isms reported on Tuesday that Rhonda Lee was fired from her job at KTBS-TV on Nov. 28 without being shown the station's social media policy, which management said forbids on-air personnel from responding to viewer comments online.
"They told me the policy I violated isn't written down, but was mentioned in a newsroom meeting about a month-and-a-half prior," Lee said of a Dec. 7 meeting she had with General Sales Manager George Sirven and News Director Randy Bain. "A meeting I didn't attend. So when I asked what rule did I break there isn't anything to point to."
Bain released a statement Tuesday confirming that both Lee and an unidentified white employee were fired for allegedly violating the station's protocol, which he said was "commonly used" by both local stations and networks nationwide.
"Unfortunately, television personalities have long been subject to harsh criticism and negative viewer comments about their appearance and performance," Bain said. "If harsh viewer comments are posted on the station’s official website, there is a specific procedure to follow. Ms. Rhonda Lee was let go for repeatedly violating that procedure and after being warned multiple times of the consequences if her behavior continued. Rhonda Lee was not dismissed for her appearance or defending her appearance. She was fired for continuing to violate company procedure."
The station also posted an email sent to news personnel detailing the policy on its Facebook page.
"When we see complaints from viewers, it's best not to respond at all," said the email, written by an unidentified marketing manager. "Responding to these complaints is a very sensitive situation and oftentimes our off-the-cuff response will be the wrong response."
KTBS' page also still contains the remarks that prompted Lee to respond.
On Oct. 1, a viewer identifying himself as "Emmitt Vascocu" posted that though "the black lady," referring to Lee, was nice, "she needs to wear a wig or grow some more hair. im not sure if she is a cancer patient ." [sic]
Five days later, Lee responded:
Hello Emmitt-- I am the "black lady" to which you are referring. My name is Rhonda Lee. Nice to meet you. I am sorry you don't like my ethnic hair. And no I don't have cancer. I'm a non-smoking, 5'3, 121 lbs, 25+ mile a week running, 37.5 year old woman, and I'm in perfectly healthy physical condition.
I am very proud of my African-American ancestry which includes my hair. For your edification: traditionally our hair doesn't grow downward. It grows upward. Many Black women use strong straightening agents in order to achieve a more European grade of hair and that is their choice. However in my case I don't find it necessary. I'm very proud of who I am and the standard of beauty I display. Women come in all shapes, sizes, nationalities, and levels of beauty. Showing little girls that being comfortable in the skin and HAIR God gave me is my contribution to society. Little girls (and boys for that matter) need to see that what you look like isn't a reason to not achieve their goals.
Conforming to one standard isn't what being American is about and I hope you can embrace that.
Thank you for your comment and have a great weekend and thank for watching.
On Nov. 14, another viewer, "Kenny Moreland," voiced skepticism over a local charity event over the fact that the children chosen to take part were all people of color.
"This is Channel 3, not KSLA, the "Project Pride" network, that might as well be part of the BET channel," he wrote. "Did KTBS slip up on a news story, and owe S'port's criminal mayor Cedric, a favor? Seems like some racism going on to me. Just saying ..."
I'm not sure I understand your comment. "...this is Channel 3 not KSLA..." What are you trying to say?
The children are picked at random. So there goes your theory that they are selected for their color. I would like to think that it doesn't matter who the child is. If you truly just want to see the kids happy your message had a funny way of showing it.
Lee had been employed at KTBS for 11 months. According to The Austin American-Statesman, Lee filed a discrimination suit against her previous employer, KXAN-TV, saying she was "repeatedly subjected to crude and insensitive remarks about her race."
Update: In an interview with CNN host Soledad O'Brien Wednesday morning, Lee reiterated that she never saw the email.
"I pled for my job this past Friday and asked to see the policy and was told that there isn't anything written down," Lee said. "So if I was in violation of something, I would also assume it would be in my employee file. There's nothing there."
She also defended her decision to respond to the two comments addressed to her, since the station had done nothing about them.
"In these kinds of instances, it behooves everyone, I would feel, to address these sort of topics, because racial instances, racial comments, can be very sensitive," she said. "If they're allowed to just sit there, to me it's almost condoning harsh comments like that, instead of perhaps even defending the employee."
Lee's interview with O'Brien, aired Wednesday, can be seen below.