A fired black television news anchor alleges she was harassed for her “unprofessional” natural hair, pressured to look like “a beauty queen” and told she was a difficult employee.
After Noble-Jones was named the 2015 Emerging Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) for her interview that aired on KMOV-TV, a CBS affiliate in St. Louis, with the mother of police shooting victim Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., she was hired at WJTV to co-host the morning news.
“In the beginning, it was a normal work environment,” Noble-Jones, originally from St. Louis tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But after I volunteered to appear in a company-wide promo in March 2017, my boss told me, ‘People here think you’re into yourself’ but he wouldn’t give me specific examples.”
The 32-year-old was newly pregnant but after the negative review, she felt uncomfortable telling her boss. She tried harder at work but noticed she was being treated differently than her colleagues. Many of her news pitches — timely stories about race relations in Mississippi — were passed over, allegedly because they “are not for all people.”
“Much later, I pitched a story about a former NFL player who became a doctor and saw on internal company notes that it was for an ‘African-American audience,'” Noble-Jones tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It was just a sports story.”
Noble-Jones says her boss didn’t allow her to attend a breast cancer awareness event to which she was personally invited and became concerned that her “personal brand” on social media was a distraction.
When she was three months along, Noble-Jones told her boss she was pregnant and soon felt more ostracized at work. She wrote on Medium, “After announcing that I was pregnant, I was no longer included in commercials. I felt the need to starve myself to fit in. I now weigh only 108 pounds. I did eat while I was pregnant and while carrying my son and postpartum, I wasn’t allowed to represent the station and my events were given away to another white reporter.”
“At 34 weeks, I asked my boss why I was being left out of work promos — I am the target audience as a young mom,” Noble-Jones tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “He told me, ‘Why should I? You’re not a mom yet.'”
On October 16th, 2016, the journalist went into early labor on-air. Her son Michael Fulton Jones, III was born prematurely and taken to the NICU because his lungs weren’t functioning. After a seven-week maternity leave, Noble-Jones returned to work, only to learn that her natural hair was a problem.
“Women in this industry, particularly black women, feel forced to look a certain way by straightening their hair or wearing extensions,” Noble-Jones tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I usually wore a wig on camera, which was my idea, because I could style it without damaging my real hair.”
However, as a reading ambassador for kids in the public school system, Noble-Jones felt guilty about her image. “Here I am in a predominantly black city, and a school representative, and I’m not even showing my real hair to black children?” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. She asked her boss if she could go natural, which he allegedly allowed, in the beginning.
Noble-Jones wrote on Medium“
“Let’s be clear my look has never been unprofessional on TV. But my boss would invite me into his office for closed-door meetings where he got away with saying extremely unprofessional comments. After having my son, I asked my news director if I could stop straightening my hair. A month after giving me the green light I was pulled back into his office. I was told “My natural hair is unprofessional and the equivalent to him throwing on a baseball cap to go to the grocery store. He said “Mississippi viewers needed to see a beauty queen.” He even asked, “why my hair doesn’t lay flat.” When I asked him how I should address the change on social media he told me to write “I was told to change my hair back to the way it was because that’s what looks best.” I chose not to post his suggested line because it would be hurtful to other black women who share my 3c hair texture. I admit I am tired of changing my voice and wearing a wig in order to report on TV.”
In April 2017, Noble-Jones wrote on Instagram that her wig was back on. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to wear natural hair on tv, but I’ve been asked to straighten my curls. Thank you family for making me feel beautiful either way,” she wrote.
A few months later, in June 2017, Noble-Jones filed a complaint against two supervisors with parent company Nexstar Media Group and says the office atmosphere grew more hostile. One boss was allegedly fired two months later but her new supervisor, she claims, adopted the same discriminatory treatment.
As a breastfeeding mom, Noble-Jones alleges that she wasn’t provided adequate breaks to pump milk and was told to use a storage closet for which she had to request the key on each occasion. She filed a second complaint in September.
The single mom wrote in her Medium post that the company fostered a culture of discrimination, despite the fact that 7 of the 12 on-air staff members were black at the time she filed her complaint. “That means station management goes out of their way when scheduling holiday and vacation requests to keep up us from sitting next to each other on the desk,” she said. “That became clear to me when President Donald Trump stopped in the city for the grand opening of the Civil Rights Museum when my boss emailed me that I would not be needed for coverage and instead chose a beautiful blonde weekend anchor who has less experience than me. I can say that because she is my mentee.”
Noble-Jones also said one of her coworkers displayed a photo on her desk showing off a Confederate flag drawn on her arm.
In April 2018, Noble-Jones took her complaints to The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal agency that oversees civil rights in the workplace. The next month, when Noble-Jones was using accrued sick days to care for her dying grandfather in St. Louis, she claims she was fired. Noble-Jones says her case is currently on hold amid the government shut-down.
Noble-Jones collected unemployment benefits, which ran out in December. She works a part-time retail job at Michael Kors in New York City and is freelance reporting, while she couch-surfs with friends (her 2-year-old son is staying with his father, Noble-Jones’ ex-husband). A GoFundMe page she started helps with her living expenses.
“I wrote the Medium post in the climate of fake news because ultimately, this fight is about me wanting to tell important stories,” Noble-Jones tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I’m just trying to do my job.”
When reached by Yahoo Lifestyle, a representative of Nexstar declined to comment.
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