Tag Archives: Savannah

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.”

Food Network dumps Paula Deen over bigoted remarks

The Food Network said Friday it’s dumping Paula Deen, barely an hour after the celebrity cook posted the first of two videotaped apologies online begging forgiveness from fans and critics troubled by her admission to having used racial slurs in the past.

The 66-year-old Savannah kitchen celebrity has been swamped in controversy since court documents filed this week revealed Deen told an attorney questioning her under oath last month that she has used the N-word. “Yes, of course,” Deen said, though she added, “It’s been a very long time.”

The Food Network, which made Deen a star with “Paula’s Home Cooking” in 2002 and later “Paula’s Home Cooking” in 2008, weighed in with a terse statement Friday afternoon.

“Food Network will not renew Paula Deen’s contract when it expires at the end of this month,” the statement said. Network representatives declined further comment. A representative for Deen did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment on the decision.

The news came as Deen worked to repair the damage to her image, which has spawned a vast empire of cookbooks, a bimonthly cooking magazine, a full line of cookware, food items like spices and even furniture.

She abruptly canceled a scheduled interview on NBC’s “Today” show Friday morning, instead opting for a direct appeal via online video – one that allowed her and her staff complete control of what she said and how she said it.

“Inappropriate, hurtful language is totally, totally unacceptable,” Deen said in the first 45-second video posted on YouTube. “I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way but I beg you, my children, my team, my fans, my partners – I beg for your forgiveness.”

Deen adopted a solemn tone as she looked straight into the camera. Still, her recorded apology featured three obvious edits – with the picture quickly fading out between splices – during a statement just five sentences long.

It was soon scrapped and replaced with a second video of Deen talking unedited for nearly two minutes as she insists: “Your color of your skin, your religion, your sexual preference does not matter to me.”

“”I want people to understand that my family and I are not the kind of people that the press is wanting to say we are,” Deen says in the later video. “The pain has been tremendous that I have caused to myself and to others.”

Deen never mentions Food Network or its decision to drop her in either of her online videos.

Deen initially planned to give her first interview on the controversy Friday to the “Today” show, which promoted her scheduled appearance as a live exclusive. Instead, host Matt Lauer ended up telling viewers that Deen’s representatives pulled the plug because she was exhausted after her flight to New York. Deen said in her video she was “physically not able” to appear.

Court records show Deen sat down for a deposition May 17 in a discrimination lawsuit filed last year by a former employee who managed Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House, a Savannah restaurant owned by Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers. The ex-employee, Lisa Jackson, says she was sexually harassed and worked in a hostile environment rife with innuendo and racial slurs.

During the deposition, Deen was peppered with questions about her racial attitudes. At one point she’s asked if she thinks jokes using the N-word are “mean.” Deen says jokes often target minority groups and “I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person.”

Deen also acknowledged she briefly considered hiring all black waiters for her brother’s 2007 wedding, an idea inspired by the staff at a restaurant she had visited with her husband. She insisted she quickly dismissed the idea.

But she also insisted she and her brother have no tolerance for bigotry.

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

AP television writer David Bauder contributed to this story.


Episcopalians return to Georgia’s ‘Mother Church’

Episcopalians in Savannah returned to worship at the sanctuary known as Georgia’s “Mother Church” for the first time in years after winning a long legal battle, according to AP.

Georgia’s Episcopal diocese recently held its first Sunday service at Christ Church since 2007, when the congregation broke away from the denomination in a dispute over homosexuality and other doctrinal issues. The breakaway congregation held onto the $3 million church property in downtown Savannah throughout a court battle over which group rightfully owned it.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled last month in favor of the Episcopal Church. The breakaway group moved out and is holding Sunday services at another local church.

Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe set aside land for Christ Church in Savannah after he founded the colony of Georgia in 1733.