N-Word Joke Jars Times Deal (UPDATED)

UPDATE (1-13): Metro International announced late Wednesday that it had appointed a committee to oversee non-discrimination rules, hired an outside firm to study Metro's employment and community relations policies, and accepted the resignation of Nylund and Albrecht. Nylund will leave his current job as head of Metro U.S., but will remain with the company in a job with no "operational responsibility," the company says.

The New York Times may have gotten more than it bargained for last week when it bought a 49 percent share of the free daily Metro Boston.

MediaChannel.org reported Monday that a top Metro executive uttered a racial slur at a conference in Rome in 2003, and that another top company official used the same word (the N-word) at a subsequent get-together in Stockholm. On top of that, two former employees of Metro Boston have filed complaints against the newspaper alleging racial discrimination.

A Times spokeswoman says the New York Times Company did not learn of the two incidents in Europe or the two claims in Massachusetts until after agreeing to the deal.

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According to MediaChannel, at an April 2003 conference in Rome, Metro International's current senior vice president for contract negotiation, Steve Nylund, told a joke that reportedly began, "There were two niggers standing by a pool, and they took their dicks out." At the later Stockholm meeting, one of Metro's non-executive directors, Hans-Holger Albrecht, opened his remarks with, "Good evening ladies, gentlemen, and niggers."

In a statement, Metro International says the two executives were not "expressing their own views and sentiments or those of Metro International." Metro says Nylund was merely translating a joke for another Metro employee who is "no longer with the company." After the MediaChannel piece broke, Nylund apologized.

Albrecht's N-bomb was "a public attempt at self-deprecation," Metro says. Albrect "opened an internal meeting by citing an offensive salutation attributed to a German official. That salutation included a racially offensive word, which the officer awkwardly and inappropriately repeated by way of illustrating his contention that his countrymen were inept at public speaking." (Mission accomplished!)

In its statement, Metro dismisses the other charges of racial and gender discrimination mentioned in the MediaChannel piece.

Those include two formal complaints to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. Both involve African Americans who worked in the paper's telesales department and claimed they were fired after complaining about changes to the paper's compensation system that, they say, adversely affected them. One of the cases was settled for $7,500. The other claim was turned down by MCAD for "no probable cause," but it has been appealed.

In its defense, Metro says it employs minorities "in senior editorial and business positions, including Production Director and Marketing Director." A Times statement says NYT Co. and the Boston Globe, which the company owns, have "received reports of inappropriate comments on the part of Metro USA and are discussing these allegations with Metro USA's management."

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