A Pittsburgh bank employee who said on social media that a man who drove through a crowd of protesters should have used a bus instead of a car is claiming in a federal lawsuit that she was fired because she's white.
The Tribune-Review reports that Lisa Ellis of Mt. Lebanon made the comment June 30, three days after an East Pittsburgh police officer was charged with homicide in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager. The shooting fueled daily protests around Pittsburgh, and a man was charged with reckless endangerment for driving his car through a crowd of activists, injuring three.
Ellis wrote on Facebook, "Total BS. Too bad he didn't have a bus to plow through." Her comment was one of 2,000 responding to a news article about the reckless driving case.
BNY Mellon subsequently fired Ellis, who worked as a senior analyst in the wealth management department.
Ellis filed a wrongful termination suit on Friday.
"We believe that she was targeted because she is white, and that she would not have been fired if she was not white," said Vincent Colianni, her attorney.
BNY Mellon confirmed Ellis no longer works for the New York-based financial services company.
"BNY Mellon expects our employees to adhere to our Code of Conduct and other policies to ensure a culture of diversity, inclusion and respect for all individuals," the company said in a statement.
Colianni contended that Ellis's Facebook comment had nothing to do with race. Instead, her lawsuit said, Ellis blamed the protesters for blocking streets and didn't think the driver should have been charged.
"It's true that Lisa regrets her choice of words, but it was never meant as an attack or a criticism of Antwon Rose or his family or the protesters," Colianni said.
"The protest was about race, but she wasn't critical of the merit of the protests or the underlying cause. She absolutely understands and sympathizes with their cause. It was their tactics," he said. "But, because her comment involved a protest over the shooting of a black man by a white police officer, the comment was construed as racist because it came from a white person."
The lawsuit alleges that activists worked with a BNY Mellon human resources official to solicit complaints about Ellis and build a case to have her fired.