The Rochester, N.Y., meteorologist fired in January from his job for making a reference during a broadcast to “Luther Coon King,” despite maintaining he made a mistake, is suing his station.
Jeremy Kappell, former meteorologist for NBC affiliate WHEC-TV, has filed a lawsuit centered around what he calls the “linguistic error” that he made on the air, and is suing the station for breach of contract, defamation of character and infliction of emotional stress, according to WHAM, an ABC affiliate in Rochester.
Kappell is seeking a jury trial regarding his termination, according to WHAM. He worked at WHEC from October 2017 until he was fired.
Kappell uttered the slur during a Jan. 4 evening broadcast during which he was showed a photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Square Park in downtown Rochester. He referred to the park as “Dr. Luther Coon King Jr. Park,” WHAM reports.
The incident infuriated the Rochester community, led by Mayor Lovely Warren, who is Black. The city often boasts its connection to abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who ran the North Star newspaper from Rochester and is buried there. The public questioned why Kappell was not immediately fired.
At the time, station vice president and general manager Richard Reingold said that even though the on-air slur took place on a Friday, he was not made aware until that Sunday, when an employee informed him.
“That it was not caught immediately is inexcusable,” Reingold said in a statement at the time. “The words have no place on News10NBC’s air.”
The lawsuit filed by Kappell in Monroe County Court alleges that the meteorologist suffered “severe emotional distress” due to “callous and reckless conduct” on the part of the station, according to WHAM.
The lawsuit also alleges that the station wrongly “represented to the world that Kappell had intentionally uttered a racial slur. In doing so, Reingold defamed Kappell, as he knew or should have known that his statement, particularly as it related to Kappell’s linguistic error and intent, was false.”
Kappell also is seeking monetary judgment that would be determined at trial, WHAM reports.
WHAM also quoted a statement issued by WHEC-TV in response to the legal action.
“We are disappointed that Mr. Kappell has taken this step, and are prepared to defend our decision to the fullest. Because this matter is now in the courts, we will have no further comment.”