Meteorologist Nicole Mitchell Fired For Serving Her Country? Seriously?

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I’ve walked away from conversations in the past about the guilt or innocence of whomever simply because I don’t have all the facts. I just don’t have time for that kind of gossip. Having served on several juries in the past, I know — as all of us who have served do — that there are lots of details in a case that are never made public until after the verdict.

However, I’ll push that aside this time having just read of the termination of The Weather Channel’s Nicole Mitchell. Actually, the termination happened a while ago, it was her lawsuit against TWC that I’ve just learned about (and through the lawsuit, her firing). According to Mitchell’s suit, she was terminated for her service in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. For this I say, “Are you serious, TWC?”

USAF Reserve Captain Nicole Mitchell. Photo: Atlanta Business Chronicle

As a former U.S.A.F. meteorologist perhaps my opinion is biased as it strikes close to home. Perhaps too, as my boss is a meteorologist in the Air National Guard, I’m a little closer to “the action” than most. But I think I’m right when I say I can’t believe she was terminated for this. And I have several reasons to support my opinion.

First, it’s illegal. According to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERA), a person cannot be fired or a contract terminated for military service. Here’s the overview from the USERA web page: The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) protects service members’ reemployment rights when returning from a period of service in the uniformed services, including those called up from the reserves or National Guard, and prohibits employer discrimination based on military service or obligation. The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) administers USERRA.

Second, she’s enhancing her job knowledge and experience as a U.S.A.F. Reserve meteorologist flying with the 403rd Wing’s Hurricane Hunters. How could this not be a boon for not only Mitchell’s meteorology career, but for TWC, as well? As someone sitting “outside the courtroom” and without all the facts, it would seem to me that having an on-air personality that does something as tremendous as flying with the Hunters and directly related to her TV job could be nothing but a win for The Weather Channel, no matter the scheduling conflicts. (Scheduling conflicts in this case, it should be noted, are not minor. During hurricane season the Hurricane Hunters can be frequently activated. Many who qualify for this position often turn it down because of the time required to be away from civilian job requirements.)

And third, the safety and security of our nation comes first. We can’t all have 9-to-5 jobs. Some of us have to step out of the business suit and step into harm’s way so that the rest of us may continue to enjoy the freedoms that our Constitution guarantees.  I applaud the men and women of our Armed Services, but that’s not all: I also applaud the co-workers of our Guard and Reservists who have to pick up the slack back at the office when service members like Nicole step into their uniforms and perform their duties in the service of our country. To me, this is the ultimate definition of the term “teamwork.”

Finally, I’ll continue with what I mentioned in my first paragraph: I don’t know all the facts. Typically, cases such as this that seem so black-and-white rarely are. I have to believe that today, more than 10 years after 9/11 and with so many Americans on active duty and so many called up (often repeatedly) for duty with the Guard and Reserves, a company can’t so blatantly terminate an employee for rendering service to our country.

I wish Captain Mitchell well. A talented meteorologist, both on-air and in uniform, I’m sure she will land solidly on her feet with a rewarding post-TWC career.

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