TV Anchor Says Firing Was Racially Motivated

     (CN) — A Pittsburgh news station benched a white anchorwoman who vented about race in a Facebook post on a shooting that left four dead, including a pregnant woman, the journalist claims in a federal complaint.
     Wendy Bell O’Toole, who goes by Wendy Bell on the air, filed the suit Monday in Pennsylvania against Hearst Stations and WTAE-TV.
     Bell started working as a reporter and anchor for the station in 1998, and has held the chair for at least 10 years. Her lawsuit notes that she’s won at least 20 regional Emmy awards for her work.
     But she says she was encouraged by her bosses to maintain a Facebook page to make chatter that producers hoped would generate buzz.
     That’s when things went south, she says.
     This past March, Bell was covering a mass shooting in Wilkinsburg, Pa., and posted to her page about it. “You needn’t be a criminal profiler to draw a mental sketch of the killers who broke so many hearts two weeks ago … They are young black men, likely in their teens or early 20s.”
     She followed that post with one about a young black worker at a restaurant in which she was eating, stating, “I wonder how long it has been since someone told him he was special.”
     The comments outraged the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation. Bell got the ax that same day.
     That’s racist, her attorneys say.
     “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 6-page filing states.
     Bell also alludes to sexism in the newsroom, intimating that a black sports director was never disciplined for making lewd comments to interns, and that another male reporter was never fired after being allegedly arrested for propositioning an undercover officer for sex.
     She says her firing was pretextual, and defends herself as not being a racist. “Indeed, defendant’s management has acknowledged that Ms. Bell was neither a racist nor posting racially offensive material,” according to the complaint.
     Bell is represented by Samuel Cordes. A higher-up at the station where she worked did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The station itself declined to comment Thursday morning.
     Meanwhile Thursday, Allegheny County authorities brought charges in connection to the shooting against Cheron Shelton, 29, and Robert Thomas, 27.
     Among the five killed in the backyard party at the suburban Pittsburgh-area home were Chanetta Powell, 25, whose unborn baby also died.
     Jerry Shelton, 35; Tina Shelton, 37; Brittany Powell; and Shada Mahone, 26, were killed as well.
     Police say the two suspects came out of the woods, jumped a fence, and laid low with their weapons.
     Authorities were on their tail, and kept watch, according to the police report, but they were too late.
     At least 18 shots were fired from a .40 caliber gun, while the next 30 rounds came from a 7.62 caliber assault rifle, the criminal complaint against the two men says.
     Cheron Shelton and Robert Thomas face a host of charges, including homicide, aggravated assault and killing an unborn child.
     The shooting is another testament to the dangers of assault rifles and the recent push in Washington, D.C., by Democrats to stymie their availability.
     Pressure for such legislation came to a head earlier this month after a shooter in Orlando gunned down 49 men and women at the gay bar Puslse.
     Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. has reportedly said Cheron Shelton used an AK-47 in the March shooting.
     Shelton reportedly laid in waiting behind a fence with another assault rifle to then open more fire.
     Though Zappala has not retuned a request for comment, his public-relations team provided a copy of the June 23 official police criminal complaint.

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