Posted on May 7, 2009

Ex-Anchor Files Suit Against Fox29

Michael Klein, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 6, 2009


In his lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, Burlington [former Fox29 weekend anchor Tom Burlington, 41, of Malvern], who is white, asserts that he was subjected to a hostile work environment because of his race.

Burlington previously had filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which closed the case without issuing a determination.

In the suit, Burlington says that on June 23, 2007, he and about eight colleagues discussed plans for the evening’s broadcast. Robin Taylor, a white reporter, mentioned her story, in which a youth council of the NAACP symbolically “buried” the racial epithet. In describing her story, Taylor used the phrase “n-word” and not the epithet, says the complaint, filed against Fox and its parent company, News Corp., by Center City lawyer Stephen Console.

Burlington said he told Taylor that using the phrase and not simply the word in her report “ultimately gives the word itself more power.”

Burlington uttered the word during the meeting and noticed that producer Nicole Wolfe, who is African American, “seemed uncomfortable,” the complaint says. He later apologized to her, it says.

About an hour later, the complaint says, anchor Joyce Evans, who is African American and who was not at the meeting, told Burlington that he had offended some people.

Burlington’s complaint says that he apologized to those who were at the meeting and that Wolfe was the only worker who told him she had been offended. Burlington said he “did not in any way intend his use of the word to be offensive.”

According to the suit, Evans told Burlington that “he did not ‘get it’ regarding the use of the word” and that as a white person, “he was never permitted to use that word.” Taylor joined the conversation and agreed with Evans, the suit says. Evans herself used the word twice in that conversation, the complaint says.

About six days later, Burlington was called into a meeting with then-news director Phil Metlin and suspended.

Burlington says that on July 3, he was told that he could undergo sensitivity training and return to duty. {snip}

Burlington says that on July 11, the station’s counselor found him fit to return to work. But the next day, station manager Mike Renda told him there was cause to terminate Burlington and offered him the opportunity to resign. Burlington said Renda cited the negative publicity and concerns for Burlington’s safety. Both Renda and Metlin are white.

Burlington’s suspension was not lifted, and he was terminated at the end of his contract, on Feb. 19, 2008.