*And to think it all started in 2007 with a simple question” “Does this mean we can finally say the word n*gger?” Tom Burlington, whose lawsuit against Fox29 is finally moving forward and making its way to the federal courtroom, claims the station fired him after he asked that question in a staff meeting. Burlington is a former TV reporter for Fox29, and says when he used the n-word it was outside of the context of malice. Black employees, he justified, were not punished for using the same word.
Hmm…That’s exactly what Malcolm X‘s daughter said to TMZ the other day.
The case has seen delay after delay since January of 2011, when it was initially set to take place. But Fox attorneys were able to successfully derail the case until another similar case could be passed through the U.S. Supreme Court. In the likened case, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff.
R. Barclay Surrick, U.S. District Judge, wrote a memorandum stating, “[w]e will not further delay its resolution by permitting ‘piecemeal review and its attendant delays and waste of time.’”
When Burlington originally used the derogatory word at a newsroom meeting on June 23, 2007, he was talking with producers about a story concerning the symbolic burial of the word by the Philadelphia Youth Council of the NAACP. In the ceremony, the n-word was used nearly 100 times.
Burlington apparently got comfortable enough to say, “Does this mean we can finally say the word n*gger?” The question wasn’t cute to the only black producer in the room who said, “I can’t believe you just said that!”
Joyce Evans, Burlington’s co-anchor, who was not in the meeting, later confronted him about his statement.
“Because you’re white you can never understand what it’s like to be called a n*gger and … you cannot use the word n*gger,” Evans told him, according to the suit.
Evans denies using the n-word at all.
Evans has been the lead anchor of “Fox 29 News at Six” since Burlington’s removal. She has been named Broadcast Journalist of the Year by the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists since his departure.
When recently asked if she had any comments about the lawsuit, she said, “I have absolutely none.”
After African American employees complained to their supervisors about Burlington’s use of the word, the news anchor was sent a stern email on stating his “behavior was unacceptable” and would “not be tolerated. You will not be warned again,” the message read. Then Burlington was told to enlist in a Racial Sensitivity Course, which he says he signed up for immediately.
But when contract time came around for Burlington on July 12, 2007, it not renewed at the station, despite encouragement from the news director, Philip Metlin, that he would “come through this without any problems.” Burlington was paid through the duration of his contract that ended Feb.19, 2008.
The case, which was filed in May of 2009, may soon be heard by a jury. Burlington’s attorney, Laura Mattiaci, says, “We are very much looking forward to this trial. We’ve been waiting many years.”