PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A white former TV news anchor who used a racial epithet during a discussion about the term wouldn't have lost his career if he were black, his lawyer argued Monday in a reverse racial discrimination lawsuit.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A white former TV news anchor who used a racial epithet during a discussion about the term wouldn't have lost his career if he were black, his lawyer argued Monday in a reverse racial discrimination lawsuit.
Tom Burlington, 53, has been working in real estate since losing his six-figure job at the local Fox station in 2007. His lawyer, Laura Carlin Mattiacci, asked the jury to award damages to ameliorate "eight years of being labeled a racist."
Burlington said he apologized to anyone offended by his language, which came as colleagues discussed a story on the NAACP's ceremonial "funeral" of the word.
"Does that mean we can finally say the word 'N-----?'" Burlington asked, according to testimony.
Burlington insisted he did not use the word with any malice, and no one suggested it was directed at any particular person.
But by the time management got involved, Burlington had used it again in his attempts to apologize, the station said. He was sent for sensitivity training, and he told the counselor he had said it three times in a row to show it was meaningless.
"Nobody wanted to fire this man," lawyer Jerome Hoffman argued Monday for Fox Television Inc. "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.
Tension inside the station grew after co-anchor Joyce Evans, who is black, heard about the conversation.
"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, quoting a white employee, 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 previously sued the Philadelphia Daily News in state court over its coverage of the story. The outcome of that lawsuit isn't immediately clear.
Mattiacci said the ouster became a career death sentence for a man who had won an Edward R. Murrow Award for a story that linked a serial killer to the deaths of nine black women.
"If Mr. Burlington were black, is this going to happen?" she asked.