FOX 29 WEEKEND anchor Joyce Evans recalled a "heated" conversation as she took the stand yesterday in former colleague Tom Burlington's race-discrimination lawsuit against the station.
Burlington was let go July 12, 2007, nearly three weeks after uttering the N-word during an editorial meeting. Reporter Robin Taylor had been reporting on the symbolic burial of the racial epithet by the Philadelphia Council of the NAACP. During the meeting, Burlington asked, "Does this mean we can finally say 'n-----'?" according to his testimony.
Evans, who did not attend the meeting, testified that she told Burlington later that "some people" were upset about his use of the word. Afterward, he apologized to some attendees at the meeting, using the N-word in some of his apologies, Evans said.
Burlington later spoke to Evans, who is black, and to Taylor, who is white, in a "heated" conversation about race and politics, Evans testified.
In that meeting, Evans said, Burlington caught her by surprise with an "out-of-the-blue comment."
"Tom told me, 'Someone said you were a n----- bitch,' " Evans said.
In Burlington's testimony on Monday, he said he only brought up that comment to delineate between the N-word being targeted at someone and the word being discussed in a "journalistic context" - as he described his utterance in the editorial meeting.
Burlington's lawsuit alleges that Evans not only used the word herself in conversation with colleagues, but also "undertook a sustained, behind-the-scenes campaign to get him fired."
These actions included Evans allegedly telling management about "people talking to [her] on the street" about Burlington, along with phone calls she had received from the National Association of Black Journalists and the Philadelphia Association for Black Journalists regarding his comments. She admitted telling a supervisor, but specified that she did not respond to either organization with comment.
Evans denied feeling any animus toward Burlington, but admitted that her conversation with him ended on an "ugly note" and that there was "thick tension" in the newsroom.
Later testimony concerned an alleged double standard behind Burlington's firing.
He said in court that station management identified "concerns [for his] safety" as the reason for his termination. Fox 29's attorneys also pointed to newspaper reports, including articles by former Daily News gossip columnist Dan Gross, as contributory factors in his firing.
In court yesterday, Burlington's attorney Laura Mattiacci questioned Evans about her contract with Fox 29, which allows for termination in cases where "adverse publicity" is brought against the station due to the employee's actions.
Mattiacci referenced an October 2013 tweet in which Evans said: "Thought 'Breaking Bad' was hot last Sunday? @FOX29philly See who's breakin' bad in SW Philly leavin' 6 people SHOT-Tonite at Ten!"
Evans was not suspended or fired for her tweet, but was "disciplined," she said yesterday. Mattiacci asked if the negative attention brought about by the tweet constituted a violation of her contract.
"It was a tweet posted hastily," Evans said, adding that she was "not proud of it at all." She said that she "took the discipline and moved on."
Burlington's suit accuses Fox 29 of a double standard in permitting black employees to say the N-word with impunity. On Monday, he testified that anchorman Dave Huddleston referred to a black criminal as "one dumb n-----" when discussing a case, and that colleagues laughed at Huddleston's comment.
His suit alleges that Evans had said to him, " '[B]ecause you're white you can never understand what it's like to be called a n----- and . . . you cannot use the word 'n-----.' "
Evans disputed the notion that she suggested blacks were solely permitted to use the word.
"It doesn't matter if you're black, white, Italian, purple or from Mars," she said. "I think it's hurtful for anyone to hear anyone say the word."
A white employee present at the 2007 meeting, production assistant Becky Rogers, was upset about Burlington's use of the word, according to Evans.
During a phone call, Evans said, Rogers "appeared to be crying" and was afraid to confront management about Burlington's comments due to the entry-level status of her position.
Rogers said in a deposition mentioned in court documents that Evans had urged her to speak out because "[t]he only people who have complained so far have been black people." Evans denied saying this to Rogers.
The trial will continue today with testimony expected from Burlington's former colleagues, including a deposition given by then-news director Phil Metlin, who was at the meeting at which Burlington was fired.