A Pittsburgh anchorwoman, who was fired after comments in a Facebook post about a shooting were deemed racially insensitive, filed a lawsuit against her former employer Monday saying the television station let her go because she is white.
Wendy Bell said in her federal lawsuit against WTAE-TV that the station fired her on March 30 “because of her race,” violating her civil rights.
“Had Ms. Bell written the same comments about white criminal suspects or had her race not have been white, Defendant would not have fired her, much less disciplined her,” the lawsuit reads. “Ms. Bell’s posting of concern for the African-American community stung by mass shooting was clearly and obviously not intended to be racially offensive.”
Bell is seeking back pay, punitive damages and her old job.
She commented on the March 9 shooting of five black people in the poor Pittsburgh suburb of Wilkinsburg.
“You needn’t be a criminal profiler to draw a mental sketch of the killers who broke so many hearts,” Bell wrote March 21. “They are young black men, likely in their teens or in their early 20s. They have multiple siblings from multiple fathers and their mothers work multiple jobs. These boys have been in the system before. They’ve grown up there. They know the police. They’ve been arrested.”
In the same post, she also praised a black restaurant worker in a way some readers felt was condescending.
No arrests have been made in the case.
Bell’s comments sparked a backlash from some who saw her words as racist, but also drew defenders who found her post honest.
After a social media backlash, Bell apologized, saying her words “were insensitive and could be viewed as racist.” The station also apologized, saying Bell’s remarks showed “an egregious lack of judgment.”
Bell was fired nine days later after WTAE determined her remarks violated the company’s journalism and ethics standards.
In an interview with The Associated Press on the day she was fired, Bell said she did not get a “fair shake” from the station, and that the focus on her comments was a distraction from the issue of “African-Americans being killed by other African-Americans.”
Sam Cordes, Bell’s lawyer, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Bell is still searching for a job, but the situation is complicated because WTAE-TV management told her that she had a noncompete clause in her original contract that ran through March 30, 2017.
“This was not easy for her and has not been,” Mr. Cordes said.
Bell joined WTAE in 1998 and has won 21 Emmy Awards.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.