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Rodney Ho covers TV and radio, from Atlanta’s stations to the hottest “American Idol" news.

Valerie Hoff sues 11Alive over forced resignation after joking N word use on Twitter DM

This was posted on Thursday, July 20, 2017 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Valerie Hoff, a former veteran 11Alive reporter, has sued the NBC affiliate for what she deemed "breach of contract" after she was forced to resign in April over a joking use of the N-word in a private Twitter exchange with a source who is black.

In the lawsuit filed Thursday in the state court of Fulton County against WXIA-TV owner TEGNA, she wrote that she complied with her contractual agreement regarding her behavior. At first, the station gave her a two-week suspension without pay.

But when news of her snafu hit, a broadcast news gossip website, the TV station changed its tune and asked her to leave the station, suggesting a resignation looked better than a termination, according to the lawsuit.

"I was treated unfairly and I'm looking forward to my side of exactly what happened coming out," Hoff said in a brief interview today before referring other questions to her attorney Amanda Thompson. 

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Thompson said they at first internally sought to get the station to pay out the rest of her contract ending January, 2018. But management rejected her request. The forced resignation "was a knee-jerk reaction and they stood by it," Thompson said.

I also emailed a copy of the lawsuit to 11Alive General Manager John Deushane at about 5:45 p.m. and have not heard back yet from him.

RELATED: Read the entire lawsuit here

RELATED: Bill Torpy's column about Hoff's termination and the use of "the N-Word Lite"

Hoff in the lawsuit noted that she was an exemplary employee over 18 years, receiving consistent raises and praise in evaluations.

On April 13, 2017, she was seeking a video of a white police officer assaulting a black driver. She found the video on the Twitter feed of Curtis Rivers and sought his permission to use it. He noted on his public Twitter that "I just posted a video to get some justice now I got news n****s all up in my DMs [direct messages] telline me to call them smh [shaking my head]."

She jokingly wrote back in a DM "Please call this news n*****. lol. I'm with 11alive."

At first, Rivers laughed it off with a "LMFAOO." But he soon realized Hoff was white and became offended that she was calling him the N-word, even in its shorter version that ends with an "a." She apologized immediately, writing, "No I called myself one. I'm a news lady at 11alive I thought you were referring to all of us. So sorry if you didn't understand...again, I'm sorry I offended you. I was not offended by what you called the media but I should not have used it back even in a pm [private message]."

Rivers posted part of the conversation, out of context, on public Twitter since he didn't include his initial use of "news n****s."

The screen shots were re-tweeted multiple times and Hoff apologized multiple times to those respondents. He eventually deleted the original screen shots.

Hoff's boss Julie Eisenman, an assistant news director, called and Hoff apologized again, according to the lawsuit. Eisenman, the lawsuit said, told Hoff she did the right thing in terms of her responses.

Rivers later contacted Hoff via DM and said he didn't want her to lose her job. He later posted a public tweet saying that all was forgiven.

The next day, according to the lawsuit, the WXIA/TEGNA human resources representative Grady Tripp assured her she had been properly responsive and she was not going to be terminated. She was suspended for two weeks without pay, which she accepted as part of her contractual agreement, with a notice that if she does anything similar again, she would be fired.

Two days before her suspension was up, she received a voicemail from 11Alive News Director Jennifer Rigby which, in part, noted, "We miss you and really, really look forward to your return on Thursday."

But management on Thursday pushed her return back at least a day. On Friday, she was told again to sit tight and stay home until Monday. A few minutes later, according to the lawsuit, Rigby called her about the FTVLive story and was told this was now a more serious situation thanks to media coverage. [At this point, I was fishing around as well and had contacted 11Alive management.]

A few hours later, Tripp and Rigby said Hoff would either have to be fired or resign.

So Hoff chose to resign though she said it was not voluntary.

To add insult to injury, she said 11Alive wouldn't allow her back in the building to pick up her belongings. The station also quickly suspended her email access so she could not retrieve contacts or put together a resume tape to help her get another job in the business if she wanted to.

Her two charges against the station are breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

Hoff is seeking unspecified damages but is not seeking her job back.

In the lawsuit, she noted that 11Alive ultimately supported the Twitter poster Rivers, who told me he thought she should resign although he told Hoff the opposite. “I honestly don’t want anyone to lose their job, but if you’re representing your company and not just yourself, then yes I do,” he wrote me at the time via Twitter DM.

Her lawsuit then listed some of Rivers' racially, ethnically and sexually offensive Tweets.

I'm mentioned in the lawsuit as well since I posted a poll showing 88 percent of respondents didn't think she should have been fired.

RELATED: The original memorandum 11Alive gave to Hoff regarding her initial suspension as included in the lawsuit

RELATED: Hoff's contractual service terms, including grounds for termination

About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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