Tag Archives: bubba hiers

Judge throws out race discrimination claims in Paula Deen lawsuit

A federal judge Monday threw out race discrimination claims by a former Savannah restaurant manager whose lawsuit against Paula Deen has already cost the celebrity cook a valuable chunk of her culinary empire.

Lisa Jackson sued Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers, last year saying she suffered from sexual harassment and racially offensive talk and employment practices that were unfair to black workers during her five years as a manager of Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House. Deen is co-owner of the restaurant, which is primarily run by her brother.

But claims of race discrimination by Jackson, who is white, were gutted in the 20-page opinion by U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore Jr. The judge agreed with lawyers for Deen and Hiers that Jackson has no standing to sue her former employers for what she claims was poor treatment of black workers, regardless of her claims that she was offended and placed under additional stress.

Jackson, at best, “is an accidental victim of the alleged racial discrimination,” Moore said in his ruling. “There are no allegations that defendant Hiers’s racially offensive comments were either directed toward plaintiff or made with the intent to harass her.”

The ruling lets stand Jackson’s claims that Hiers sexually harassed her when she worked at the restaurant from 2005 to 2010. However, the judge said he was reserving the chance to rule on requests from Deen’s lawyers to dismiss other claims in the lawsuit.

The judge added that to allow Jackson to seek legal recourse for discrimination directed toward other workers “would serve to conscript federal courts as human resource departments that are responsible for imposing and monitoring a federally created standard for harmony in the workplace.”

Of course, Jackson’s race-based claims have already resulted in serious damage to Deen’s public image. It was Jackson’s lawyer who questioned Deen under oath in May when she acknowledged having used racial slurs in the past. A transcript of the legal deposition became public in June, and the backlash against Deen caused the Food Network and other corporate sponsors and business partners to drop her.

Still, Deen’s publicist issued an upbeat statement Monday.

“We are pleased with the court’s ruling today that Lisa Jackson’s claims of race discrimination have been dismissed,” Elana Weiss said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. “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.”

Jackson’s attorney, Matthew Billips, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. Attorneys for Deen and Hiers also did not immediately return phone calls.

The judge’s decision comes a month after Deen and Hiers dumped their attorneys and hired a new legal team. But the court motions seeking dismissal for all race-based claims in the case were filed in December, months before those changes were made.

In her lawsuit, Jackson had claimed Hiers frequently made jokes containing racial slurs at work and prohibited black workers from using the restaurant’s front entrance and customer restrooms. She said she was personally offended because she had biracial nieces.

Attorneys for Deen have said in court filings that Jackson’s lawsuit was based on “scurrilous and false claims.” They said before Jackson filed suit, she threatened to embarrass Deen publicly unless she paid the ex-employee “huge sums of money.”

Celebrity cook Paula Deen says she used racial slurs but does not tolerate prejudice

Celebrity cook Paula Deen said while being questioned in a discrimination lawsuit that she has used racial slurs in the past but insisted she and her family do not tolerate prejudice.

The 66-year-old Food Network star and Savannah, Ga., restaurant owner was peppered with questions about her racial attitudes in a May deposition by a lawyer for Lisa Jackson, a former manager of Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House. Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers, own the restaurant. Jackson sued them last year, saying she was sexually harassed and worked in a hostile environment rife with innuendo and racial slurs.

According to a transcript of the deposition, filed this week in U.S. District Court, an attorney for Jackson asked Deen if she has ever used the N-word.

“Yes, of course,” Deen replied, though she added: “It’s been a very long time.”

Asked to give an example, Deen recalled the time she worked as a bank teller in southwest Georgia in the 1980s and was held at gunpoint by a robber. The gunman was a black man, Deen told the attorney, and she thought she used the slur when talking about him after the holdup. “Probably in telling my husband,” she said.

Deen said she may have also used the slur when recalling conversations between black employees at her restaurants, but she couldn’t recall specifics.

“But that’s just not a word that we use as time has gone on,” Deen said. “Things have changed since the `60s in the South. And my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior. As well as I do.”

William Franklin, Deen’s attorney, said the celebrity was looking forward to her day in court.

“Contrary to media reports, Ms. Deen does not condone or find the use of racial epithets acceptable,” he said in a statement.

Attorneys for Jackson did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Plenty of people were already judging Deen on social media sites. One of the top trending topics on Twitter was (hash)PaulasBestDishes, the name of her Food Network show. Tweets used the tag along with satirical names for recipes such as “Massa-Roni and Cheese,” “Lettuce From a Birmingham Jail,” and “Key Lynch Pie.”

Station spokeswoman Julie Halpin said in a statement: “The Food Network does not tolerate any form of discrimination and is a strong proponent of diversity and inclusion. We will continue to monitor the situation.”

The civil suit was filed in March 2012 in Chatham County Superior Court and was transferred to federal court a few months later. Deen and Hiers have both denied the allegations made by Jackson, who is white.

“Bubba and I, neither one of us, care what the color of your skin is” or what gender a person is, Deen said in her deposition. “It’s what’s in your heart and in your head that matters to us.”

Known for her sometimes ribald sense of humor as well as her high-calorie Southern recipes, Deen acknowledged in her deposition to sometimes telling jokes. She seemed to struggle when asked if she considered jokes using the N-word to be “mean.”

“That’s kind of hard,” Deen said. “Most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks. … They usually target, though, a group. Gays or straights, black, redneck, you know, I just don’t know – I just don’t know what to say. I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person.”

Jackson’s attorney, Matthew Billips, also pressed Deen to explain whether she had once suggested that all black waiters be hired for her brother’s 2007 wedding.

Deen said she once mentioned the idea to her personal assistant and Jackson but immediately dismissed it. Deen said she had been inspired by an upscale Southern restaurant she and her husband had visited in another state.

“The whole entire wait staff was middle-aged black men, and they had on beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie. I mean, it was really impressive,” Deen said. “And I remember saying I would love to have servers like that, I said, but I would be afraid that someone would misinterpret (it).”

Asked if she used the N-word to describe those waiters, Deen replied: “No, because that’s not what these men were. They were professional black men doing a fabulous job.”