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Black meterologist says she was fired for replying to Facebook comments about her hair

Posted By KATE STANTON, UPI.com   |   Dec. 12, 2012 at 11:47 AM   |   Comments

Dec. 12 (UPI) -- KTBS-TV's Rhonda Lee told Journal-isms that her employer fired her for responding to racial comments on the station's Facebook page. While the station told her that she had violated the company's social media policy, Lee said that her employee manual never mentioned any such restrictions: " I was accountable for a rule that essentially isn't in existence." Lee's story has raised questions about how media members should interact with viewer criticism on social media.

On October 1, Emmitt Vascocu, a retired white man from the area, wrote that Lee's hair was too short for TV:

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 not sure if she is a cancer patient. but still its not something myself that i think looks good on tv.

Lee wrote back:

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.

In another post, on November 14, Lee also responded to viewer Kenny Moreland, who asked why an annual charity function apparently only helped children of color:

Am I the only one that has noticed that this year, all the kids, lets say, are people of color? This is Channel 3, not KSLA, the 'Project Pride' network, that might as well be part of the BET Channel. 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.....

Lee replied:

The children are picked at random. So there goes your theory that they are selected for their color. I would like to think 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. Happy holidays.--Met. Rhonda Lee

Lee told Journal-isms that her news director and general manager told her that she had violated an unwritten policy mentioned in a meeting she never attended. KTBS initially declined to comment on Lee's firing, but recently posted their side of the story on Facebook, saying that Lee had repeatedly been warned not to interact with viewers on social media:

Unfortunately, television personalities have long been subject to harsh criticism and negative viewer comments about their appearance and performance. 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.

On his own Facebook page, Vascocu later wrote: "To all in ciber [sic] land," he said. "I have Dementia...so in saying this if i say something that hurts someone bare [sic] in mind that i have this problem."

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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