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Discharge for racial slur upheld in Philadelphia’s ongoing Fox 29 lawsuit

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

In a notorious case involving a Philadelphia TV station, a reporter who used a racial slur during an editorial meeting has lost his bid to overturn a jury’s decision that his firing was not racially based.

Recent case: Thomas, who is white, worked under an employment contract for the Fox 29 TV station in Philadelphia. The contract said that putting Thomas on the air was entirely the station’s decision and that payments would continue should the station elect to use another personality.

During an editorial meeting on the local NAACP chapter’s symbolic burial of the “n-word,” Thomas asked the others present whether it would now be okay to use the racial epitaph. Co-workers were shocked, word eventually got out about what had happened and viewers were upset. After sending Thomas to sensitivity training, management pulled him from the air pursuant to the contract, but continued to pay him. When Thomas’s contract was up, the station chose not to renew it.

Thomas sued, alleging race discrimination and arguing that black employees could use the word he had been punished for using. A jury sided with the station and Thomas asked the court to overturn their decision.

The judge refused. He concluded that the jury was within its rights to conclude race hadn’t been a factor in the case, based on testimony that bad publicity was the real reason for pulling Thomas off the air. (Burlington v. News Corp., No. 09-1908, ED PA, 2016)

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