It was “wrong, hurtful and infuriating” that News10 WHEC had aired the slur, Warren wrote, criticizing the station for being too slow to apologize.
She also called for Kappell to be fired.
“While referring to African Americans in racially derogatory, insensitive and vulgar language needs to be addressed immediately,” Warren said in the statement, “there are other issues at play as well that feed into this cultural ignorance.”
Warren’s comments are now the center of a civil complaint filed Monday by Kappell against the mayor and the city of Rochester, alleging that her choice to put public pressure on the station played a key role in his termination. Kappell’s attorney alleges his client was fired 18 minutes after the mayor’s Facebook post was published.
WHEC general manager Richard A. Reingold publicly announced Kappell’s termination during a broadcast on Jan. 7.
“As a result of Warren’s public condemnation and pressure upon WHEC, on January 6, 2019, prior to interviewing Kappell to question him about the incident, and prior to conducting any real investigation into the situation, Kappell’s employment with WHEC-TV was terminated,” the complaint reads.
“Defendants, through public statements and in their official capacity, demanded that WHEC-TV terminate Kappell’s employment, improperly and unlawfully influencing the termination of a citizen’s employment with a private employer, without any due process.”
Kappell, 44, has worked in media for 20 years and was hired at WHEC in August 2017. In the immediate aftermath of his firing, he said he “jumbled a couple of words” but meant no harm, and apologized to those who were hurt by his comment. He received support from fans and even some journalists, such as “Today” show co-host Al Roker, who in a tweet called the incident an “unfortunate flub,” adding, “anyone who has done live tv and screwed up understands.”
In the complaint, Kappell said Warren’s statements had irreparably damaged his name and reputation, tanked his career and caused financial damage. He now works part-time and hosts a live weather podcast on his Facebook page five nights a week.
During a podcast interview with Cleveland-based radio show “Rover’s Morning Glory” that aired Tuesday morning, Kappell alleged the mayor was “very much involved” in his termination. He said Warren defamed him by generating dialogue around the incident “that will permanently tarnish his family’s name.”
“She has every right to her opinion. But for her to voice it so publicly and so convictively like she knew what was in my heart and to do that without even contacting me or anybody who knows me, that’s reckless,” he said on the podcast. “You have a city to run. You’ve got major crime in this inner city. Shootings left and right. Your schools rank in the bottom 10 percent in the state. You’ve got major issues in this town, and this is what you choose to focus on?”
In a Monday statement responding to the lawsuit, the city of Rochester asserted that Kappell was fired before Warren issued her public statement. That sentiment was echoed by WHEC in a segment that aired Jan. 7, the day after the mayor’s Facebook post, in which Reingold denied that the mayor had anything to do with the station’s decision. The general manager said the disciplinary plan was already determined before Warren stated her opinion on the matter.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Kappell said there are “plenty of reasons to question” the claims from the city and television station, and he indicated he would provide evidence to support his point later this week. In April, Kappell filed a lawsuit against his former station, alleging that his firing was a breach of contract and that he was never given a fair chance to defend himself. He said Tuesday that his case against the station will go to court in December.
In his Monday complaint, Kappell noted that others have made errors similar to his January mishap. The Washington Post has previously cited a 2005 incident when weather reporter Robert Blair was fired by his Las Vegas TV station after he said the forecast would be in the mid-60s on “Martin Luther coon King Jr. Day.” The general manager of the station said Blair was terminated because stumbling over his words was not a sufficient excuse.
In 2010, Mike Greenberg of ESPN’s former “Mike & Mike” show apologized after stating he and co-host Mike Golic were “talking football with you on this Martin Luther coon King Jr. holiday.” That same day, he apologized “that my talking too fast — and slurring my words — might have given people who don’t know our show the wrong impression about us, and about me.” He was not fired.
And in 2014, San Antonio-based meteorologist Mike Hernandez said he misspoke when he referred to “Martin Luther coon Day.” Hernandez and his station apologized, and he kept his job.
Kappell’s lawyer, Tom Ricotta, told The Washington Post that the historical examples show there is a science behind what caused his client to utter the racial slur. It was pressure from city officials, he asserted, that led to Kappell being removed “without the opportunity for any reasonable assessment of the situation to occur.”
“They ran him out as ‘the racist weatherman that uttered a racial slur,’ ” Ricotta said. “Meanwhile, there are other instances where this happened, the stations handled it appropriately, and they moved on.”
Katie Mettler contributed to this report.