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Weather anchor says she was fired over her curly hair

Posted at 12:55 PM, May 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-18 14:57:22-04

A weekend weather reporter claims she was fired from her on-air job at a Knoxville, Tennessee, TV station for her physical appearance on air, including having hair that her managers said was too curly.

Tabitha Bartoe worked at WATE, an ABC station in Knoxville, since February. It was her first job out of college. Soon after she started, however, Bartoe repeatedly clashed with the station's management over her appearance, she told the Knoxvile News Sentinel. In one early appointment with the station's hairstylist, Bartoe said she was asked about getting her hair relaxed, with one person reportedly telling her that "If you straighten your hair, the curl will fall out over time; that's what we're looking for."

In a subsequent hair appointment, however, management told the stylist to make Bartoe's curls "more defined," according to the Sentinel.

Ultimately, Bartoe said the station's news manager told her, "Your style isn't aligning with the company and the company policy, so your time is done here," according to the Sentinel. She was fired within 90 days of beginning her job, she said.

Bartoe didn't respond to messages from CBS MoneyWatch sent to her through Twitter and LinkedIn. WATE's general manager and news director did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

Women in professional jobs often face inflexible appearance standards, particularly those in media. Anchor Brittany Noble Jones said she was fired from her morning anchor job in Jackson, Mississippi, in 2018, after the reporter, who is African-American, wore her hair braided on air. She later said her boss called the natural hairstyle unprofessional and compared it to "wearing a baseball cap."

Lisa LaFlamme, a popular Canadian news anchor, was abruptly fired last year after she stopped dyeing her hair during the pandemic and let return to its natural gray color.

Black employees have long faced faced discrimination over their hair in the workplace. A 2020 study by Duke University professors found that Black women with natural hairstyles were rated as less professional, and recommended for interviews less often, than White or Black women with straightened hair. About 1 in 5 Black women between 25 and 34 say they've been sent home because of their hair, according to a Dove-funded surveyreleased this year.

Still, Bartoe, who turned 22 in April, isn't backing away from public-facing work, according to her Twitter. She is enrolled in a Master's program in communications at the University of North Dakota.

"I hope that in the future, we all learn to appreciate and accept people for who they are," she said on Twitter. "If you have natural curls, embrace them and be ok with your natural hair. It is professional."