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

Valerie Hoff worked at 11Alive for 18 years. CREDIT: publicity photo

This was posted on Thursday, July 20, 2017 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com 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 FTVlive.com, 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. 

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

Reader Comments 0

32 comments
LAKE
LAKE

Typical overreaction to someone being "offended." Again, again, again.. Confounds right-thinking people tat slang, demeaning words and lyrics and be used and praised by raptor peers. What a society. Double standards!!!

CharlesN
CharlesN

I always liked Valerie's reporting and missed her when she was out during her illness. For her to be forced to resign over this situation was ridiculous. 11Alive should hire her back. BTW - I am an African American male and think that all she was doing was aggressively trying to get a story.

Midfinger
Midfinger

At the very best, she's probably not the brightest pea in the pod, to have been caught in such a compromising situation. Maybe she was incompetent, and they used this incident as a pretext to get rid of her. She worked in the communications field. She is familiar with colloquial words and meanings. She should know.

tomg
tomg

What is wrong with the word NEGRO.  This is stated over and over again by government organizations.  If you have bloodline from many countries you are considered NEGRO.  The American blacks call each other NEGRO.  You aren't African American, you are  American with African descent which was the creation of the NEGRO race.  

SouthernDAWG
SouthernDAWG

People need to get over them selves.  Just because you offend someone should not mean you loose your job. IF this was/is truly a FREE country then a single apology shouldn't even be required.  Get over it you're an Adult.  Canadians and Europeans have more freedom of speech then we do because of all the people like this who jump to poor me.  My feelings got hurt.

roysteve
roysteve

Very poor decision from management. Should have shown a little courage and supported an employee who did nothing wrong. Have now blocked this channel on my cable box.

PlayJax1
PlayJax1

 If this was a fair world, then Mr. Rivers needs to lose his twitter feed.  He also should be held liable. He started this.  He got this women fired.

This is the problem when a black person uses the word and then gets offended.


If we are going to say this word is worse then the F-word, then it should be across the board.

Harvey
Harvey

If what is posted in this story is correct and accurate, she did NOT call Mr. Rivers the n-word.  She was referring to herself as a "news n****** " Never should have been an issue other than for 5 minutes in 11Alive confines around the water cooler. 

Harvey
Harvey

I'm in Valerie's corner on this one.  (would not mind being cornered by Valerie, but that is another subject for another time.)   She did nothing wrong or inappropriate.  It is the station management that should be ashamed and embarrassed and made to pay and restore deserved praise to Valerie.

Tjeanise
Tjeanise

I don't feel that she should have been forced to resign. She did nothing wrong. Get your money Valerie!


lfelton
lfelton

This is so ridiculous. Any sane person reading the exchange knows she didn't call him the "N"word. As a black man I'm tired of the double standard of the use of the word. No one should use it. I stopped watching 11 Alive after this first came out. 

HonkyKat99
HonkyKat99

I hope Valerie wins MILLIONS. She did not call that POS Nword the Nword.....even though he is. He wasn't offended with her comment until he realized she is white. SMFH.

layla_16
layla_16

@HonkyKat99 He had every reason to be offended when he realized she was white.  If he used a derogatory term towards her, she would do the same and more.  And, the KKK would have been out in force by night.

NeboSuki2
NeboSuki2

@HonkyKat99 The KKK would have been out in force by night?   Are you still living in the 60s? 

Harvey
Harvey

@HonkyKat99  She cannot "win millions". She can win her salary equivalency and added court costs and legal fees.   If there is justice in the world, she should be 'Awarded' millions in judgement declaration; but that is awarded, not won.

weetamoe
weetamoe

She did not--absolutely did not--call him the   "n-word." He called all news reporters that -- --lumped them all into that category.  So did he mean it as a slur? The cowardly AJC, which does employ news people, does it not? should defend her and help pay her legal bills.

AldenS
AldenS

A black jury is probably not going to rule in her favor

HonkyKat99
HonkyKat99

@AldenS It sure worked for OJ. Butcher 2 white people and walk free because of a black jury. Typical.

Harvey
Harvey

@HonkyKat99 @AldenS  where are your facts for making such a statement?   He was found Not Guilty.  If you have evidence to dispute this, bring it forward.  If not, just shut up and go away.

bendellman62
bendellman62

deushane is a dooshbag which I'm sure he has heard before. Juornalism, yearnalism and urinalism

iHATEracist
iHATEracist

@FAWK U you wife sleeps with them daily.  I'm black and know this for sure

Another comment
Another comment

So sick of some people getting to use the N word but the rest of us can not!

A guy walks into a bar
A guy walks into a bar

The station IS run by idiots and pansies, unwilling to defend their employees against thugs who make worthless threats. Hoff is the victim and should be compensated.

DaveyCrockett
DaveyCrockett

The station is run by total morons.  Hope she makes a few million out of this stupidity.

Bill Fisher
Bill Fisher

She'll win; punishment was disproportionate given the "crime"