A black female meteorologist was fired from a Louisiana news station after she responded to a viewer’s Facebook comment about her “ethnic hair.”
Rhonda Lee, formerly of ABC affiliate KTBS in Shreveport, La., had also responded to another reader’s post that had pointed out that the winners of a station contest were all “people of color.”
The first viewer, identified as Emmitt Vascocu, wrote in an Oct. 1 post on KTBS’ Facebook page, “the black lady that does the news is a very nice lady.the onlt [sic] thing is she needs to wear a wig or grow some more hair. im [sic] not sure if she is a cancer patient.” Somewhat strangely, the post received a “like” from KTBS 3 News.
Lee responded several days later to say she was the “black lady” and that she is “very proud of my African-American ancestry which includes my hair.”
“Traditionally our hair doesn’t grow downward. It grows upward,” she wrote. “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.”
Vascocu responded that Lee was “right to be proud of” where she was from and said he was “not at all a racis” [sic.]
“what im trying to say an this is my opionion. [sic] this world has has certain standerd. [sic] if youve come from a world of being poor are you going to dress in rags?” he wrote.
One month later, a second viewer commented on the station’s Facebook page that the child winners of the station’s “Three Minute Smile” contest for a three-minute shopping spree 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,” viewer Kenny Moreland wrote.
Lee responded that the children were “picked at random” and that if the poster “truly just want[s] to see the kids happy your message had a funny way of showing it.”
KTBS news director Randy Bain said in a statement to Joural-isms Tuesday that Lee was fired on Nov. 28 for repeatedly violating the station’s policy against responding to comments on the official KTBS Facebook page — a rule Lee said is not written down and that she was never informed of.
“[The station's general manager] claims that even if a policy isn’t on paper we as employees are responsible for abiding by them. There isn’t anything in our employee manual talking about social media dos and don’ts. I was accountable for a rule that essentially isn’t in existence,” Lee told Journal-isms.
But Bain said Lee was “warned multiple times of the consequences” of commenting on Facebook posts, and said another employee, “a white male reporter who was an eight year veteran of the station,” was dismissed for the same reason as well.
“If harsh viewer comments are posted on the station’s official website, there is a specific procedure to follow,” Bain said. “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.”
Earlier this year, Lee filed a discrimination lawsuit against Austin, Texas NBC affiliate KXAN alleging she was fired after being “repeatedly subjected to crude and insensitive remarks about her race.”