A federal judge has thrown out a racial discrimination lawsuit brought against Paula Deen by a former employee. On Monday, August 12, Judge William T. Moore Jr. told a Georgia court that claims the celebrity chef and her brother had unfairly targeted African-American workers at two Savannah restaurants would be dismissed because the plaintiff was white.
Lisa Jackson, a former manager at Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House, alleged that a “racially biased attitude prevailed throughout” at Uncle Bubba’s and at The Lady and Sons, a restaurant run by Deen. Jackson, who was sacked in 2010, claimed that Deen and co-defendant Earl Hiers had committed “numerous acts of violence, discrimination and racism”, which included an expectation that African-American employees were to use the restaurants’ rear entrance only.
The complaint also claimed that the unpleasantness had caused Jackson “immense personal and work related emotional and physical distress.”
However, Judge Moore wrote that “At best, plaintiff is an accidental victim of the alleged racial discrimination.” The judge added that “racially offensive comments” allegedly made by Deen and Hiers were not directed toward Jackson, nor were they intended to harass her.
Deen’s mouthpieces told media that they were pleased with the judge’s ruling. “As Ms. Deen has stated before, she is confident that those who truly know how she lives her life know that she believes in equal opportunity, kindness and fairness for everyone,” they said in a statement to CNN.
The millionaire chef may have dodged a bullet, legally at least, but the damage to her reputation and fortunes may take years to fix. Already, several lucrative sponsors have dumped Deen, the Food Network has cancelled her cooking show, and publication of a new cookbook has been withheld.
Although the racial discrimination claims have been dismissed, Deen and Hier still face several other charges of sexual harassment and abusive treatment lodged by the same plaintiff. Jackson alleges that the Deen family restaurants are “a boy’s club” in which “women are not invited to take on substantial decision-making roles,” and in which lewd remarks and pornography are commonplace.
Paula Deen is no stranger to controversy or hardship. The former cheerleader has endured debilitating agoraphobia and an alcoholic ex-husband in years gone by, and has more recently admitted to suffering from Type 2 diabetes. Many have seen this as due punishment for her unashamedly unhealthy cooking style, as she is well-known for preparing butter-rich and sugar-laden treats.
In a series of videos posted on YouTube, Deen has expressed contrition for using the ‘n-word’ and a host of other prejudicial actions. “I was wrong, yes, I’ve worked hard, and I have made mistakes, but that is no excuse and I offer my sincere apology to those that I have hurt, and I hope that you forgive me because this comes from the deepest part of my heart,” she said in a recent clip. Last week, in another post, she claimed that “Your color of your skin, your religion, your sexual preference does not matter.”
Deen is likely to retain a sizeable fan-base – she and her Southern-style recipes are simply too popular to be dismissed completely – but it is doubtful whether the stains inflicted by this racial discrimination case will ever completely disappear.