Newscaster Wendy Bell, fired from Pittsburgh-based WTAE-TV network for comments in a Facebook post the station deemed racist, has filed suit against the television station, claiming she was fired because she was white.
“Had Ms. Bell written the same comments about white criminal suspects or had her race not have been white, [the station] would not have fired her, much less disciplined her,” reads the lawsuit, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times. “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.”
In the lawsuit, Bell is seeking back pay, punitive damages and her old job. She made the comments leading to her termination about the Wilkinsburg, Penn., shooting of five African-American people on March 9.
“You needn’t be a criminal profiler to draw a mental sketch of the killers who broke so many hearts… 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,” wrote Bell in the post in March after the attack.
When WTAE fired Bell, it said it was because of her violation of “the company’s ethics and journalistic standards.” Her attorney, Sam Cordes, questioned Monday whether the station regularly adhered to those standards.
Cordes mentioned two other acts committed by WTAE on-air personalities — verbal abuse to interns, resulting in the program’s cancellation; and an arrest for propositioning an undercover police officer — that he called “at least as egregious” as Bell’s.
He also brought up the ability for WTAE to edit and delete content on Bell’s Facebook page, saying if it actually violated the station’s standards, it would have deleted the post.
“It was their page. They could clearly do that,” Cordes said.
According to Cordes, the station encouraged Bell to use social media to engage with her audience and frequently called her a model employee.
Since her termination, however, Bell has been unable to find a new job, since the station is choosing to enforce a non-compete clause in her contract until March 2017.
“This was not easy for her, and has not been,” Cordes said.