Judge allows suit by ex-TV anchor fired after online remarks
A federal judge has declined to throw out a lawsuit filed by a former Pittsburgh newscaster fired after her comments in a Facebook post about a shooting were deemed racially insensitive.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that the judge on Friday denied an attempt by Hearst Stations Inc to dismiss the lawsuit by former WTAE news anchor Wendy Bell. She is seeking back pay, punitive damages and her old job back.
Bell, who is white, had commented on the March 9 shooting of five black people and an unborn child during a cook-out 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."
Bell's comments sparked a backlash from some who saw her words as racist, but also drew defenders who found her post honest. She was fired nine days later after WTAE determined her remarks violated the company's journalism and ethics standards.
Bell alleges in the suit filed in June that the station violated her rights in firing her on March 30 because if she had written the same comments about white criminal suspects "or had her race not have been white", she would not have been fired or even disciplined. Her suit says her "posting of concern for the African-American community stung by mass shooting was clearly and obviously not intended to be racially offensive".
Hearst filed a motion to have the lawsuit dismissed in September, arguing that she had no evidence supporting her claim.
In her ruling, the judge wrote Friday, "Bell is entitled to proceed to discovery, and this motion to dismiss is denied."
Cheron Shelton, 29, and Robert Thomas, 27, both of whom are black, have since been charged in the ambush slayings at the cook-out. The Allegheny County district attorneys' office says it will seek capital punishment if they are convicted of first-degree murder. Their lawyers say their clients are innocent.