After posting her second response to the viewer, Lee was promptly asked to leave the station, citing that she violated the company policy that employees were not allowed to respond to controversial social media posts. She claims she never knew this policy existed and that this new policy was supposedly announced at a staff meeting that occurred on her day off.
“Unbeknownst to me, they claimed they have a policy…Mind you it is not written down anywhere,” Lee said. “How am I supposed abide by a policy that’s not written down? [My manager] said,’We can hold you accountable for things that were announced.'”
An email titled “Social Media Best Practices” that was sent to the KTBS staff, including Lee, on August 30th reads: “When we see complaints from viewers, it’s best not to respond at all. Responding to these complaints is a very sensitive situation and oftentimes our off-the-cuff first response will be the wrong response.”
KTBS news director Randy Bain has since sent an email to Journal-isms clarifying Lee’s dismissal.
“Ms. Rhonda Lee was let go for repeatedly violating that procedure and after being warned multiple times of the consequences if her behavior continued,” wrote Bain. “Rhonda Lee was not dismissed for her appearance or defending her appearance. She was fired for continuing to violate company procedure.”
“I ended up being the one punished, and being chastised and you know, I was told that I should ‘just let it go,” Lee says. “I don’t know if I can’t let the more racist comments go…There were a menagerie of horrible comments about black people in general on the station’s Facebook page.”
And this isn’t the first time Lee, who has been in the industry for 25 years, has been embroiled in a racially charged issue at a news station. The 37-year old meteorologist was also asked to leave her previous job at KXAN in Texas and is now filing a lawsuit claiming she was subjected to “crude, and insensitive remarks about race.”
In a similar controversy that garnered national attention, anchor Jennifer Livingston in Wisconsin stood up to a bully who wrote a letter that criticized her for being overweight. Livington, however, was supported by her local station managers who even allowed her to use air-time to address the topic of bullying.
“I’m one of those folks that just can’t sit there and let things that need to be addressed go unaddressed, that’s probably clearly to my detriment! But that’s the kind of person I am. I can’t let wrong be wrong,” Lee says. “Since the station didn’t say anything, I thought here’s my chance and let viewers know we do care at KTBS.”
The meteorologist’s Facebook page, in response to her departure, has received an outpour of support from fans praising her courage and also complimenting her natural African-American look.
As a black woman in a highly public profession, Lee has received more than enough criticism in regards to her race and appearance. Being the first black meteorologist in the Shreveport market, she says that the immense pressure to conform to “European” beauty standards is a growing problem among African-American women pursuing careers in this industry:
“I just wish as an industry, we could just embrace people for who they are and the professionals that we are,” she says.”My hair should have absolutely no bearing if I make a good forecast or not.”
Follow Brittany Tom on Twitter @brittanyrtom