A white former Philly Anchor was fired for using the N-word in a newsroom meeting back in 2007.
He felt it was unfair, sued his station and now the trial has finally begun.
Victim of workplace double standard or his own poor judgment? A jury is faced with that question as a race-discrimination lawsuit filed by former WTXF Fox29 Anchorman Tom Burlington began today at U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.
Burlington contends the station fired him after he uttered the "n-word," while African American employees were not disciplined for using the same word.
In his lawsuit, Burlington said he had been unable to find work as a TV newscaster because of his termination and the subsequent publicity. He is seeking unspecified damages. A court filing contends that he lost nearly $3 million in past and future earnings.
Burlington is scheduled to take the stand Today before the all-white jury.
WTXF Attorneys did not return calls for comment. In court papers filed last month, they asserted there was no evidence that race played a role in the decision to end Burlington's contract. They attributed his firing to "his admitted misconduct, his poor judgment, the upset it caused in the newsroom, and the resulting negative publicity."
Burlington, who now works as a real estate agent on the Main Line, admits to saying the word in June 2007 as reporters and editors reviewed a story about the symbolic burial of the racial epithet by the Philadelphia Youth Council of the NAACP. During the council's mock funeral, covered by a Fox29 reporter, participants used the word at least 100 times.
It was during the discussion that Burlington, scheduled to anchor the evening broadcast, asked the question: "Does this mean we can finally say the word n-----?"
Nicole Wolfe, one of three African American employees at the meeting, exclaimed "I can't believe you just said that!"
Burlington explained that by using "the n-word" rather than the word itself, the reporter gave the racial epithet more power. The group made a decision not to use the word on the broadcast that night, and Burlington apologized to Wolfe, according to his lawsuit.
An hour later, a report of the incident made its way to Burlington's coanchor, Joyce Evans, who is black.
Evans, who did not attend the staff meeting, confronted Burlington.
According to Burlington's suit, Evans delivered a stern rebuke, saying "Because you're white, you can never understand what it's like to be called a n-----, and ... you cannot use the word n-----."
Evans has denied using the word in her conversation with Burlington, according to court papers filed in response to the lawsuit. Her alleged use of the word will not be allowed during trial because Burlington did not complain about it in his suit, according to a May 27 memo written by U.S. District Court Judge R. Barclay Surrick.
Burlington contends that after the encounter, Evans orchestrated a behind-the-scenes campaign to have him terminated.
Burlington's attorney, Laura Mattiacci, declined to comment on the specifics of the case.
"We're very much looking forward to going to trial," she said.