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Federal judge allows Wendy Bell's suit to proceed

Ben Schmitt
| Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, 12:12 p.m.
Wendy Bell, former WTAE news anchor
WTAE
Wendy Bell, former WTAE news anchor

A federal judge has ruled that former WTAE news anchor Wendy Bell can proceed with her lawsuit against the television station and its parent company.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Reed Eddy on Friday denied an attempt by Hearst Stations Inc. to dismiss the lawsuit, according to court documents filed in federal court in Pittsburgh.

WTAE fired Bell for an online comment she posted using a company Facebook account following the March 9 massacre of five people and an unborn child in a backyard barbecue ambush in Wilkinsburg.

Bell speculated in the post about the race and family background of the shooters and contrasted that profile with her recent encounter with a black busboy.

The company fired her March 30.

In a post that was later edited, then deleted from a Facebook fan page, Bell wrote: “You needn't be a criminal profiler to draw a mental sketch of the killers who broke so many hearts two weeks ago Wednesday. ... They are young black men, likely teens or in their early 20s. They have multiple siblings from multiple fathers and their mothers work multiple jobs.”

In the same post, she said she was given “hope” by a hardworking black busboy at a SouthSide Works restaurant who “moved like a dancer with a satisfied smile on his face. ... He's going to make it.”

The post, the company's delayed reaction and Bell's subsequent firing drew widespread public criticism on social media.

Bell sued the station in June, claiming racial discrimination. She claimed through her attorney that she wouldn't have been fired for her comments if she were not white.

Hearst, in turn, 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.”

Lawyers for Hearst could not be reached for comment.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or bschmitt@tribweb.com.

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