Sam Wood, Philly, June 9, 2015
On Monday, a racial discrimination suit filed by a former Fox29 anchorman opened in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.
Eight years ago, Tom Burlington was a weekend co-anchor on the station when he uttered the n-word in an internal staff meeting. Reporters and editors were discussing a story on June 23, 2007 about the ceremonial funeral of the word staged by the local youth council of the NAACP.
Burlington, who is white, asked “Does this mean we can finally say the word n—.” Several black co-workers were offended.
Despite taking required sensitivity training, within a fortnight Burlington was off-the-air and looking for a new job.
Burlington’s attorney, Laura Mattiacci, pointed out that multiple news organizations, including the Inquirer and Daily News, used the full word in their accounts of the NAACP event.
Burlington, now a 53-year-old real estate agent, took the stand in the early afternoon. Asked about his life following his firing, he described the difficulty of building a new career from scratch.
“The hardest part is my children,” he said, as he broke into sobs. “My biggest fear is that they’ll find accounts of it on the Internet.
“They’ll believe I’m a racist,” he said. “They’ll never see me as a journalist.”
Burlington, an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning reporter, earned several prizes for his coverage of African-American communities in Texas, North Carolina, and Camden, N.J.
He insists he said the word without malice. He contends he was unfairly punished for saying it, while African American employees were never disciplined for using the same word during similar staff meetings.