COMMENTARY: Black Woman Fired Over Response to Short Hairstyle

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  • I hope Rhonda Lee gets her job back. In fact, she never should have lost her job over a short Afro hairstyle in the first place.

    Lee, an African American meteorologist, was recently fired from the ABC affiliate in Shreveport, La., because she responded to a racial remark posted by a viewer on the station’s Facebook page, according to Richard Prince, who first reported the story in his diversity column — “Journal-isms” — for The Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

    In what appears to be an unfair dismissal, Lee was hastily fired simply for defending her hairstyle after a viewer suggested that she wear a wig or start growing more hair.

    A wig? Really?

    The viewer’s comments were insulting, ignorant and racially inflammatory—yet Lee got the ax.

    That’s just wrong. The station gave the bigoted viewer a pass but tossed their black female meteorologist over the side.

    “I had a meeting with my [news director] and GM [general manager] Friday trying to get my job back,” Lee told Prince in her first interview since she was fired. “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. A meeting I didn’t attend. So when I asked what rule did I break, there isn’t anything to point to.”

    “I was instead fired the next week — no discussion had,” Lee explained. “Sirven 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.”

    There are many problems with Lee’s situation. Since the station doesn’t have a written policy in place to terminate Lee, it sounds as though Lee may have a legal case to pursue.

    The station should also be aware – and acknowledge – racial social media postings by viewers about its employees.

    Lee also offered Prince examples of Facebook postings to the station’s website that clearly have racial overtones.

    On Oct. 1, a viewer identified as Emmitt Vascocu wrote, “the black lady that does the news is a very nice lady. the only thing is she needs to wear a wig or grow some more hair. im not sure if she is a cancer patient. but still it’s not something myself that i think looks good on tv. what about letting someone a male have waist long hair do the news. what about that (cq).”

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