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Old 01-11-2011, 04:36 PM   #1
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Trial Set For Firing Over Use Of N Word

Trial set for firing over use of 'n' word - Philly.com

January 05, 2011|By Michael Klein, Inquirer Staff Writer


A federal jury will be asked to decide whether it is acceptable for an African American person, but not a white person, to use the "n" word in a workplace.

U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick has ruled that former Fox29 reporter-anchor Tom Burlington's lawsuit against the station, claiming a double standard and alleging that he was the victim of racial discrimination, may go to trial. However, Surrick denied Burlington's claim of a hostile work environment.

Burlington, who is white, was fired after using the "n" word during a June 2007 staff meeting at which reporters and producers were discussing reporter Robin Taylor's story about the symbolic burial of the word by the Philadelphia Youth Council of the NAACP.

Burlington, who began work at the station in 2004 and is now working as a real estate agent, was suspended within days and fired after an account of the incident was published in the Philadelphia Daily News. He alleges that he "was discriminated against because of his race," according to court documents. He claims in his lawsuit that at least two African American employees at Fox29 had used the word in the workplace and were not disciplined.

The dispute began after Taylor, who is white, used the phrase the "n" word during the 2007 staff meeting. She said participants at the burial had said the full word "at least a hundred times or more," according to court records.

"Does this mean we can finally say the word n-?" Burlington asked colleagues, according to depositions.

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!"

Burlington told Taylor that although he did not necessarily expect her to use the word in her story, he thought that doing so gave the story more credence.

Burlington says he used the word only once and approached several attendees after the meeting to explain himself. The Daily News account said he had used the word more than a dozen times.

Surrick, in denying Fox's request to have the suit dismissed, said that federal courts had not determined whether a double standard, if true in this case, would violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which deals with equal opportunity in employment.

On the one hand, he wrote in a memorandum Dec. 23, the word is "considered by many to be the most offensive in the English language" and "has been used by whites as a tool to belittle, oppress, or dehumanize African Americans. When viewed in its historical context, one can see how people in general, and African Americans in particular, might react differently when a white person uses the word than if an African American uses it.

"Nevertheless, we are unable to conclude that this is a justifiable reason for permitting the station to draw race-based distinctions between employees."

Surrick wrote that "there is evidence in this case to suggest that at least two African Americans said the word in the workplace with no consequences."

Surrick wrote that a jury would have to decide whether Burlington was a "victim of political correctness run amok" - as Burlington's suit contends - or a victim of "his own poor judgment."

On Dec. 30, Surrick denied Burlington's attempt to prevent Fox from mentioning at trial that after the meeting, he told his former coanchor Joyce Evans that someone had referred to her as a "n- bitch."

Burlington had said he was simply illustrating what he considered to be an unacceptable use of the word, court filings say. Evans was not at the staff meeting.

The trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 18.

A Fox spokeswoman on Tuesday said the station disagreed with the judge's decision about the disparate treatment and looked forward to presenting its case to the jury.
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Old 01-11-2011, 04:51 PM   #2
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"Does this mean we can finally say the word n-?"
What is wrong with people?
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Old 01-11-2011, 06:27 PM   #3
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I find it odd that, at a "burial" of the word, the word got used as many times as it did, but I also find it odd that people would be surprised if the word gets used in any discussion about it to begin with.

Given Burlington's general reaction to the word according to this story, and the way he allegedly used it towards a co-worker afterward (the fact that he wanted to prevent the channel from mentioning that occurrence doesn't exactly make him look good), he sounds like an idiot and I'd say he doesn't have a case. He knows full well the negative history surrounding the word and is a jerk if he said it to stir up trouble.

That being said, either a word can't be said by anyone or it can. I think this whole thing of who can and can't say certain words is silly and pointless and only lends itself to stupid situations like this.

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Old 01-11-2011, 06:37 PM   #4
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I find it completely ridiculous that people are afraid of a word regardless of the context in which it's used. Sure, it's a terrible word, but anyone should be allowed to utter it if the context is appropriate (ie, referring to the word rather than using it to belittle someone). Do I suddenly become a racist if I say that I heard a report on the radio Monday that some publishers are censoring the word 'nigger' out of Huckleberry Finn? (Which I did hear and think is an incredibly stupid idea). Of course I dont. I love all different kinds of people. Political correctness can suck a dick
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Old 01-11-2011, 07:28 PM   #5
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IMO, it seems the guy was making a really really bad joke. He's an idiot, but I don't know if that's worth firing someone over.
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Old 01-11-2011, 07:43 PM   #6
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His case doesn't sound very strong to me. It hardly sounds as if use of "the N word" was rampant in Burlington's former workplace, even if two prior incidents involving black employees purportedly were let slide--although, assuming one of those was the incident Burlington defensively lobbed at his black coanchor after the fact, it sounds like that one at least was more a case of whomever first said it having been smart enough (unlike Burlington) to say it in a situation where it wouldn't get back to a supervisor. (And he should've complained to a supervisor at the time if it bothered him.)



--------------------------------------------

JT, I agree that censoring classroom editions of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a terrible idea, but I did nonetheless find a lot of the coverage on that story highly irritating, in that it basically amounted to self-righteous pundits mounting their soapboxes to huff about lefty PC and people's prissy sensitivities etc. etc., without taking into account the stated intention of the scholar who produced the edition--namely, to help out schoolteachers who are under intense parental and/or administrative pressure not to use the book (teachers, unlike the rest of us, can't afford to address this issue only on the comfortable terrain of abstract principle). I don't think that's the way to respond to such pressures, but the guy at least deserves to be countered on the grounds of what his actual intentions were.
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Old 01-11-2011, 08:06 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by yolland View Post


--------------------------------------------

JT, I agree that censoring classroom editions of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a terrible idea, but I did nonetheless find a lot of the coverage on that story highly irritating, in that it basically amounted to self-righteous pundits mounting their soapboxes to huff about lefty PC and people's prissy sensitivities etc. etc., without taking into account the stated intention of the scholar who produced the edition--namely, to help out schoolteachers who are under intense parental and/or administrative pressure not to use the book (teachers, unlike the rest of us, can't afford to address this issue only on the comfortable terrain of abstract principle). I don't think that's the way to respond to such pressures, but the guy at least deserves to be countered on the grounds of what his actual intentions were.
I find it hard to disagree with that reasoning, but it's almost one of those 'think about the children' argument enders that there's really no way of debating. I mean, I give the guy the benefit of the doubt that he's just trying to increase the exposure of the book, but I'm not sure rewriting another person's art is the right thing to do. He also mentions public readings of the book (which I assume are not all students) in which he says audiences were more comfortable with the word 'slave' replacing 'nigger'. Sometimes it's not just about feeling comfortable with the material. Sometimes it can be more rewarding to expose yourself to things that make you feel uncomfortable
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Old 01-11-2011, 08:12 PM   #8
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Whoops, wrong thread...not sure how that happened.
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Old 01-11-2011, 08:15 PM   #9
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Whoops, wrong thread...not sure how that happened.
That's okay. Here you go

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Old 01-11-2011, 08:16 PM   #10
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Thank you kind sir.
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Old 01-11-2011, 10:24 PM   #11
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Here is Judge Surrick's written opinion if anyone is interested...

http://www.paed.uscourts.gov/documen...s/11D0004P.pdf
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Old 01-12-2011, 08:13 PM   #12
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^ Actually that's only his ruling re: whether Burlington's (racially insensitive) spontaneous recounting to his black coanchor of alleged prior slurs behind her back should be permissible as evidence against him in court.
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Sometimes it can be more rewarding to expose yourself to things that make you feel uncomfortable
I certainly agree, but making Huck Finn approachable for contemporary American high-school students--it's startlingly rare on school reading lists nowadays--is a considerably more difficult venture than you might be allowing for. It's not just that its (ostensibly likeable, sympathetic) white narrator calls his black friend a "nigger" more than 200 times; it's also that said friend reads uncomfortably like the stock 'Old Darky' character of 19th-century minstrelsy, and that the novel's 'coming of age' narrative structure doesn't, to contemporary eyes, actually deliver on any presumed promises of a truly racially enlightened Huck. Justifying its continued canonization as a Great American Novel to high-school students is not necessarily all that easy to do. Again, I don't see censoring it as a solution to these challenges at all, but IMO it's important to grasp that presenting this material to children can be difficult in ways an easy "We mustn't be afraid to read offensive things" doesn't really address.
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Old 01-13-2011, 09:19 PM   #13
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I find it completely ridiculous that people are afraid of a word regardless of the context in which it's used. Sure, it's a terrible word, but anyone should be allowed to utter it if the context is appropriate (ie, referring to the word rather than using it to belittle someone). Do I suddenly become a racist if I say that I heard a report on the radio Monday that some publishers are censoring the word 'nigger' out of Huckleberry Finn? (Which I did hear and think is an incredibly stupid idea). Of course I dont. I love all different kinds of people. Political correctness can suck a dick


I agree.


I still use the novel Sounder by William Armstrong in my class as a reading assignment. I know that other teachers no longer use this novel because it uses the word 'negro.'

A very lame reason reason for banning a great book.
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