A federal judge in Philadelphia recently decided that a jury will decide this question in a case that pits a former television news anchor against the television station that fired him. Fox 29 fired news anchor Tom Burlington because Mr. Burlington used the n-word during a discussion with his co-workers.
Mr. Burlington, who is white, claims that Fox 29 unlawfully discriminated against him because of his race. He claims that Fox 29 allowed black employees to use the n-word. He believes Fox 29 discriminated against him because of his race. He argues that if he had been black, Fox 29 would not have fired him for his use of the n-word. Fox 29 argues that Mr. Burlington’s comparison between his use of the n-word and black employees’ use of the n-word ignores the fact that his use of the n-word offended some black employees; whereas no one took offense when the black employees used the n-word. Fox 29 also argues that it had the right to fire Mr. Burlington because his use of the n-word caused the station to suffer bad publicity. A jury will have to decide who is right.
This case illustrates why it is a bad idea for any employee to use the n-word at work, no matter what his race is. While you may not intend to offend anyone when you use the word, someone may take offense. If you work in a place where people use the n-word, and you want to do something to change that practice, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer first.