Jury rejects lawsuit by ex-TV anchor who used racial epithet

Tom Burlington and Joyce Evans (Courtesy Photo)
Tom Burlington and Joyce Evans (Courtesy Photo)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A jury rejected a lawsuit filed by a White former TV anchor who said a local Fox station let Black employees use a racial epithet with impunity but not White ones.

Tom Burlington’s lawyer had argued Monday that a double standard applied that cost Burlington his career after he used the N-word in a news meeting about a story on the NAACP’s ceremonial “burial” of the word.
“Does that mean we can finally say the word ‘N—–?’” Burlington asked in the WXTF-TV planning meeting in June 2007, according to testimony.
The all-White jury, after about three hours of deliberations, found that race was neither the determining factor nor a motivating factor in his dismissal.
Fox lawyers had argued that Burlington continued “not to get it,” repeating the word in apologies to offended Black colleagues and in other follow-up conversations that ensued that week.
“Nobody wanted to fire this man,” lawyer Jerome Hoffman argued to the jury Monday. “They had a serious problem with an employee who didn’t get it, who wanted to press his point.”
The station showed him the door once the flap hit local newspapers, though it paid him $90,000 for the months remaining on his contract.
“He knew when this hit the news, he was cooked,” Hoffman said.
Burlington, 53, of Malvern, declined comment after the verdict, as did Hoffman and several jurors leaving the federal courthouse. The former anchor now sells real estate. His lawyer vowed to appeal based on pretrial rulings.
According to testimony over the past two weeks, tension inside the station simmered after weekend co-anchor Joyce Evans, who is Black, heard about the weekend news meeting.
“Evans encouraged other co-workers to complain to management …, even urging a White co-worker to do so because ‘(t)he only people who have complained so far have been Black people,’” U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick wrote in a memo last year.
Evans denied that but said colleagues, viewers and Black journalist groups had raised concerns to her. She felt that the issue broke down into more than “a journalistic debate about what to say on television.”
Burlington settled a defamation lawsuit against the Philadelphia Daily News over a story on his ouster, according to his lawyer, Laura Carlin Mattiacci.
She called the Fox dismissal a career death sentence for a man who had once won an Edward R. Murrow Award for a story that linked a serial killer to the deaths of nineBlack women.
“If Mr. Burlington were Black, is this going to happen?” Mattiacci asked in closing remarks Monday.

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