A FORMER FOX 29 employee says that former anchor Tom Burlington's apologies for saying the N-word seemed insincere.
Burlington's contract was not renewed on July 12, 2007, after he said the word in a June 23 editorial meeting. During the meeting, reporter Robin Taylor discussed the symbolic burial of the notorious racial epithet by the Philadelphia Council of the NAACP.
According to his testimony on Monday, Burlington sparked controversy by asking, "Does this mean we can finally say 'n-----'?"
Burlington's federal suit against the station alleges discrimination on the basis of his race because other employees used the N-word and other racial epithets with impunity. He seeks unspecified damages, claiming that he has been unable to work in broadcast journalism since the incident and instead has worked as a real-estate agent.
Tor Smith, a former Fox 29 employee, said in a deposition read in court Wednesday that he did not find Burlington's original comment "malicious" but that later, as Burlington continued to use the N-word in apologies to co-workers, Smith became offended.
"I could care less for [Burlington's apology]," said Smith, who is black and who attended the June 23 meeting. He testified that he didn't think the apology "was very sincere."
Smith had told station management in an email that Burlington's continued use of the N-word while apologizing left him uncomfortable.
Burlington's attorney, Laura Mattiacci, later took aim at other Fox 29 employees who used racial epithets in the workplace without being disciplined.
At the meeting at which Burlington was suspended, then-news director Phil Metlin, who is Jewish, said that Burlington's use of the N-word would be akin to someone calling Metlin a "kike."
Metlin, in a deposition read in court Wednesday, defended his use of the word as a means to "educate" Burlington to the impact of racial slurs used in the workplace.
Mattiacci pointed out that Metlin was not disciplined for using an offensive word because it was in an educational context.
Ameena Ali, the station's human-resources director, said that despite being "offended and surprised" at Burlington's continued use of the N-word in apologies, she was not disturbed by Metlin's comment, partly because she was unfamiliar with the term he used.
"I didn't know what that word meant prior to the meeting," Ali said in a taped deposition aired in court Wednesday.
John Jervay, a Fox 29 employee who attended the June 23 meeting, used the N-word in an email to superiors about Burlington's comments. Ali said in her testimony that Jervay was not disciplined because he was instructed by his superiors to describe the meeting.
Ali, who said that Burlington was fired because of "concerns for his safety," said she did not investigate any of those concerns. When pushed by Mattiacci, Ali could not cite any Fox 29 employee who felt threatened by Burlington's comments, although she said write-ups about him in Philadelphia newspapers gave management reason to expect safety concerns.
Photographer Paxton Reese, who is black, notified station management that he felt uncomfortable working with Burlington after his comments. Reese did not attend the June 23 meeting.
No other employee, according to Ali, requested not to work with Burlington, although his co-anchor, Joyce Evans, told Ali in a meeting that her "on-air chemistry" with him may be tense.
The case in U.S. District Court continues Thursday, and the question of whether Fox 29 discriminated against Burlington on the basis of his race is expected to be put to the all-white jury by Monday.
- Staff writer Jennifer Wright contributed to this report.