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Federal jury prepares for 'n-word' case

Jan. 5, 2011 at 11:05 AM

PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- A federal jury seated in Philadelphia will be asked to decide whether a black person, but not a white person, may legally use the "n-word" in the workplace.

The trial in former television reporter-anchor Tom Burlington's lawsuit against WTXF-Philadelphia in which he alleged he was the victim of racial discrimination will begin Jan. 18, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick ruled Burlington's suit could proceed, but struck down a claim of a hostile work environment.

Burlington, who is white, was fired after using the "n-word" during a June 2007 meeting during which colleagues discussed another reporter's story about the symbolic burial of the word by the Philadelphia Youth Council of the NAACP.

Burlington, now working as a real estate agent, was suspended then fired after the Philadelphia Daily News published an account of the incident. Court documents claim he "was discriminated against because of his race." Burlington's lawsuit said at least two black employees at the Fox affiliate had used the word in the workplace and were not disciplined.

In his ruling last month, Surrick said federal courts had not determined whether a double standard, if found true in this case, would violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"(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.

He said a jury should decide whether Burlington was a "victim of political correctness run amok" or a victim of "his own poor judgment."

A spokeswoman told the Inquirer that TV station disagreed with the judge's decision and looked forward to presenting its case to the jury.

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