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Newscaster canned for racial comments seeks to turn tables

PITTSBURGH -- A Pittsburgh newscaster fired after her comments in a Facebook post about a shooting were deemed racially insensitive sued her former employer Monday, saying the television station let her go because she is white.

Wendy Bell said her federal lawsuit that WTAE 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."

A message left with station management was not immediately returned. Bell is seeking back pay, punitive damages and her old job.

In a Facebook post, Bell 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 praised a black restaurant worker in a way some readers felt was condescending.

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."

After Bell posted her comments, the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation issued a statement, which read, in part: "The irresponsible statements demonstrate a persistent problem with how African-Americans are negatively stereotyped by too many journalists and news organizations."

No arrests have been made in the case.

While Bell's comments sparked a backlash from some who saw her words as racist, they also drew defenders who found her post honest.

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."

Bell joined WTAE in 1998 and has won 21 Emmy Awards.

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