Fired meteorologist files lawsuit against former TV station, demands trial

Jeremy Kappell interview.jpg
Jeremy Kappell was let go from WHEC-TV on January 7, three days after video showed him apparently using a racial slur during an evening newscast the previous Friday. (WHAM photo)

Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - A former local TV meteorologist who was fired earlier this year after he appeared to have said a racial slur on the air has filed a lawsuit against the station.

Jeremy Kappell filed the lawsuit Monday afternoon, seeking a jury trial regarding his termination. The lawsuit against WHEC-TV, Hubbard Broadcasting, and WHEC general manager Richard Reingold lists four causes of action for the lawsuit: breach of contract, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Kappell had served as the chief meteorologist at the station since October 2017.

During the January 4, 2019 evening broadcast of News10NBC at 5:30, Kappell showed a photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Square Park in downtown Rochester. While describing the photo, Kappell utters what appears to be the phrase "Dr. Luther C**n King Jr. Park." The term is a commonly-used racial slur to refer to African-American people.

News10NBC Vice President and General Manager Richard Reingold later said that even though the words were said on Friday, management was not made aware of them by an employee until Sunday morning. "That it was not caught immediately is inexcusable," Reingold's statement read in part. "I regret that we did not immediately interrupt the broadcast and apologize on the spot."

"The words have no place on News10NBC's air," he added.

City of Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren called for his resignation less than 48 hours later. Though he could not provide an exact timeline, Reingold claimed the decision to fire Kappell was made before he learned of the mayor's call to do that. He said they continue to investigate why it took so long for management to learn of the incident.

The lawsuit filed in Monroe County Court claims Kappell suffered "severe emotional distress" as a result of what attorneys called "callous and reckless conduct" by the defendants. The lawsuit refers to Reingold's statement made on behalf of WHEC, saying that the racial slur was attributed to Kappell, "representing 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."

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In the lawsuit, Kappell also called the incident a "linguistic error." The lawsuit claims he was terminated without being interviewed and "prior to conducting any real investigation into the situation."

In addition to the jury trial, Kappell is seeking a monetary judgment in an amount to be determined at the trial.

WHEC-TV released the following statement Monday afternoon:

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.