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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Fox Anchor’s ‘N-Word’ Case Ends in Defeat

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - A federal judge refused Tuesday to throw out the jury verdict against a white Fox reporter who lost his job after spelling out the "n-word."

Thomas Burlington had been a weekend news anchor for the Philadelphia affiliate Fox 29 when he uttered the racial slur that sparked a human-resources saga.

According to his wrongful-termination complaint, the news team had been in the midst of an editorial meeting in June 2007 when the discussion focused on a local NAACP chapter's symbolic burial of the "n-word."

Burlington chimed in: "Does this mean we can finally say the word 'nigger'?"

He said the comment was meant to undermine the slur, but others at the meeting, several of whom were black, were aghast.

Burlington underwent sensitivity training and tried apologizing to his co-workers, but apparently upset at least one further my using the word nigger again during his apology. Other news outlets had reported on the scandal in the meantime, a PR nightmare for the network.

With the anchor refusing to resign, Fox 29 paid him for the duration of his contract, kept him off the air and did not renew his contract upon its expiration.

Burlington's case went to trial last year, but a jury ruled for the defendants - News Corp., Fox Television Stations and Fox Television Stations of Philadelphia.

In a last-ditch effort to make his case, Burlington urged U.S. District Judge Barclay Surrick to overturn the jury's verdict, saying they overlooked his evidence that proved he was fired because he white.

"Plaintiff correctly notes that he needed to prove that his race was a motivating factor in Fox 29's decision not to continue with his employment," the decision states. "However, he overlooks the fact that plaintiff and defendants presented conflicting evidence on the issue."

In addition to testimony about the bad press, Fox officials pointed to concerns that Burlington did not understand the ramifications of his actions since he continued arguing about the matter with co-workers and used the slur again in his apology.

Surrick faulted Bulrington for trying "to avoid the realities of this testimony by pointing to select portions of testimony."

Citing a number of co-workers who did not take offense to his remark, Burlington also noted "that others at Fox 29 were not offended by the use of the word 'nigger' in news stories or by use by his African American colleagues at Fox 29," the decision states.

Surrick said these "arguments must fail."

"The jury was free to accept the evidence that Defendants did not use race as any factor," the decision states.

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