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Use of ‘n’ word in television workplace sets stage for trial

Is it OK for an African American to use the “n” at work, but not so for a “white person”? Well, that question now is a federal matter. Is it OK for an African American to use the “n” at work, but not so for a “white person”?

Well, that question now is a federal matter.

In Philadelphia, U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick has cleared the way for a federal trial on a lawsuit by former Fox29 reporter-anchor Tom Burlington. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Burlington’s lawsuit against the station claims a double standard and alleges that he was the victim of racial discrimination.

In June of 2007, the Philadelphia Youth Council of the NAACP staged a symbolic burial of the “n” word. During a staff meeting where station reporters and producers talked about the story, Burlington used the “n” word.

The Philadelphia Daily News went to press first with an account of the incident. A suspension and then determination soon followed for Burlington, who has since landed a job selling real estate

In court documents cited by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Burlington makes the claim of discrimination “because of his race.” No disciplinary action was taken against at least two African-American employees at Fox29 who used the “n” word, the lawsuit asserts.

According to the Inquirer, the dispute began after Robin Taylor, the reporter who covered the staged burial, used the phrase “the ‘n’ word” during the 2007 staff meeting. Court records reflect that Taylor said participants at the event had used the full word “at least a hundred times or more.”

Depositions reflect that Burlington subsequently asked, “Does this mean we can finally say the word n-?”

In its story, the Inquirer reported that Nicole Wolfe, a producer and one of the three African-American employees among the nine people at the meeting, exclaimed: “I can’t believe you just said that!”

Using the “n” word would give the story more credence, Burlington reportedly said to Taylor, stopping short of telling her to include the word in her report.

An account by the Daily News said Burlington made use of the word a dozen-plus times. In the Inquirer story, Burlington said he used the word only once and approached several attendees after the meeting to explain himself.

In his ruling, Judge Surrick declared that it should be put to jurors to determine if Burlington was a “victim of political correctness run amok” – as is argued in the lawsuit – or a victim of “his own poor judgment.”

The trial is set to start on Jan. 18.

The Inquirer quoted a Fox spokeswoman who said the station looks forward to presenting its case.

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