PHILADELPHIA (CN) – A white reporter accuses Fox TV of racial bias in suspending and firing him for suggesting, in a newsroom meeting, that the station not shy away from using “the N word” in a report on an NAACP youth group’s ceremony “to symbolically bury the word ‘nigger’ and its negative connotations.”
Plaintiff Thomas Burlington says that during a news meeting on June 23, 2007, the reporter on the story (nonparty) Robin Taylor, “used the euphemistic phrase ‘the n-word’ rather than the actual word ‘nigger.’
“Plaintiff expressed his opinion that using the phrase ‘the n-word’ rather than the actual word ‘nigger’ ultimately gives the word itself more power. Ms. Taylor responded that she personally did not feel that it was appropriate to use the word ‘nigger’ and that she would not do so during her broadcast presentation.
“While plaintiff was speaking, he noticed that Nicole Wolfe (black), newscast producer, seemed uncomfortable with his comments. Immediately after the meeting ended, plaintiff approached Ms. Wolfe and apologized if he had offended her with his comments.
“Approximately one hour after the meeting ended, Joyce Evans (black), weekend anchor/reporter, told plaintiff that he had offended some people with the word that he used. Ms. Evans was not present at the editorial meeting and was not privy to the discussion that plaintiff had with Ms. Wolfe.”
Burlington, who was hired in December 2004 as a reporter and promoted to reporter and weekend news anchor in February 2006, says he apologized personally to everyone who was at the meeting. Nonetheless, he says, he was suspended on June 29, and the suspension lasted until he was fired in February 2008.
Burlington says an inaccurate story in the Philadelphia Daily News complicated things. Burlington says a company-“sanctioned” counselor met with him on July 7, 2007, and found “that she did not believe that he had any racial bias or related issued and that she planned to report that he was ‘fit for duty.'”
But he says the Daily News reported on July 5, in “a false and defamatory article,” that he had “used the word ‘nigger’ more than 12 times in a ‘bizarre’ and ‘shocking’ sermon. The article implied that plaintiff’s belief was that using the word ‘nigger’ in any context was ‘not a big deal.’ Upon information and belief, the article was based on false and defamatory statements made by employees of defendants.”
Burlington says Fox never let him return from suspension, but cited the Daily News article in a July 12 meeting at which he was told “that due to the negative publicity from the article in The Daily News and concerns that defendants had for this safety and the safety of the photographers with whom he worked, defendants did not want him to return to work.” He says he was given the chance to resign, refused, and was not allowed to return from suspension until he was fired 7 months later.
Burlington claims he was “subjected to a hostile work environment based on his race,” and that his firing was “pretextual,” discriminatory, and done with “reckless indifference.” He demands punitive damages.
The Daily News is not named as a party in this federal lawsuit. Defendants are News Corp., Fox Television Stations, and Fox Television Stations of Philadelphia. Burlington is represented by Stephen Console.