A former anchor at The Weather Channel is suing the network after she said she was fired over a dispute involving her military service.
Nicole Mitchell, an Air Force Reserve Officer and a member of the “Hurricane Hunters” team, has accused The Weather Channel and NBC of discrimination and violating her rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994.
Mitchell said she began to experience harassment about her military service just after The Weather Channel was purchased by NBC, Bain Capital and the Blackstone Group, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court.
Court papers allege NBC bosses made explicit complaints about her military service schedule and created a “hostile working environment” for the anchor.
Mitchell, who holds the rank of captain, was an on-air meteorologist for The Weather Channel from 2004 until 2011 – when her contract was not renewed. She is a highly decorated officer who flies aboard a “Hurricane Hunter” and her military expertise was especially noted during the network’s hurricane coverage.
But after the network was purchased by NBC/Universal, Mitchell said network executives ordered her to get clearance before agreeing to any military assignments.
“I was told in an email, ‘before you agree to military duty, you need to clear it through us first,’” Mitchell told Fox News Radio. “If you don’t show up for orders, you could be court-martialed.”
The Weather Channel released a statement to Fox News Radio declining to comment on the specifics of the case.
Spokesman David Blumenthal said the network “is committed to creating a work atmosphere free of discrimination and in compliance with The Uniformed Services Employment Reemployment rights Act of 1994.”
Blumenthal said some of Mitchell’s allegations were inaccurate, but declined to provide specific examples.
“We disagree with many of the assertions in the plaintiff’s press statements and intend to vigorously defend the matter in the arbitration process,” he said.
Lance LoRusso, Mitchell’s attorney, called The Weather Channel and NBC’s behavior “deplorable.”
“It is not a matter of providing lip service and saying you support the military,” he told Fox News Radio. “You cannot interfere with their service. You cannot provide harassment or a hostile environment to them and if you do – you are subject to sanctions.”
An incident involving a missed hair appointment seems to be where Mitchell’s career at The Weather Channel.
“They said quite clearly, ‘this is non-negotiable, no excuses,’” LoRusso said.
But Mitchell did have an excuse – she was on weekend military duty – and Mitchell had given the network advance notice of her responsibilities.
“She was told that was not a good answer,” he recounted. “They gave her a hard time, but she stuck to her guns.”
It wasn’t long before she was transferred from a Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. – 10 a.m. anchor shift on “Your Weather Today” to a Monday-Friday, 10 p.m.-2a.m. shift.
And LoRusso believes she Mitchell was removed from her star role because she’s a weekend warrior.
“Here we truly believe that the scheduling and the fact that her Reserve duty was up against a schedule of NBC and The Weather Channel – was a motivating factor in their decision,” he said. “That is illegal.”
Mitchell joined the Air National Guard when she was 17-years-old – and the network was well aware of her military commitments when she was hired, LoRusso said.
“It’s not a matter of courtesy,” he said. “It’s a matter of obligation. Our military cannot function as a volunteer force if the individual employers can control when our service members can appear and when they shouldn’t.”
LoRusso noted the irony of NBC’s sponsorship of a pro-military campaign called, ‘Got Your 6’ – vowing to support service members.
“Well, you should start in house,” he said.