A former Pittsburgh television news anchor has sued the channel that employed her for 17 years after she was fired in March over social media comments that were criticized as racially insensitive.
Wendy Bell, who anchored the news on WTAE TV, said she was fired for being white and that her comments would have gone unpunished had she been of another race.
“Had Ms. Bell written the same comments about white criminal suspects or had her race not been white, (WTAE) would not have fired here, much less disciplined her,” said the lawsuit filed on Monday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
She is seeking to regain her job, plus lost compensation and punitive damages.
WTAE did not respond to a request for comment, directing all queries to General Manager Charles Wolfertz, who was unavailable.
After a March 9 shooting that resulted in six deaths, Bell posted comments on Facebook.
“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,” Bell said.
“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,” she wrote.
The Pittsburgh Black Media Federation responded at the time with a campaign to promote dialogue over what it called a “racially offensive Facebook post.”
“The irresponsible statements demonstrate a persistent problem with how African-Americans are negatively stereotyped by too many journalists and news organizations,” wrote the federation, which says it seeks fair representation of blacks in the news and an increased presence of minorities in newsrooms.
Leaders of the federation and WTAE met on March 30, the same day Bell was fired. The federation said WTAE ended its relationship with Bell hours before the meeting started and that it did not call for her to be fired.
Bell’s lawsuit said she was fired because WTAE considered her comments “inconsistent with the company’s ethics and journalist standards.”
But Bell contends the station has tolerated misconduct by others, including a black anchor who made lewd comments to interns and a male anchor who was arrested for propositioning an undercover police officer. The intern program was terminated and the other man was not disciplined, the suit said.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Dan Grebler)