Archived: Judge Tosses Paula Deen Racial Discrimination Lawsuit

By Chris Hoenig

A large part of the lawsuit that led to Paula Deen’s business empire collapsing has been thrown out by a judge, who ruled that the white employee could not sue Deen over racial discrimination against Black coworkers.

U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore Jr. said that Lisa Jackson, a white woman who worked for Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers, at two of their Savannah, Ga., restaurants for five years, was not directly injured by the racist comments. Moore allowed sexual harassment proceedings to continue. “At best, plaintiff is an accidental victim of the alleged racial discrimination,” Moore wrote in a 20-page opinion dismissing the suit. “There are no allegations that defendant Hiers’ racially offensive comments were either directed toward plaintiff or made with the intent to harass her.”

Racism in Her Restaurants

Jackson claimed in the lawsuit that Deen and Hiers were violent racists, alleging that a “racially biased attitude prevailed throughout and pervaded defendants’ restaurant operations.” Among the accusations, Jackson said that Black employees were forced to enter only through the back of the restaurant; were not allowed in the front of the restaurant; and had to use a single restroom, even though white employees were allowed to use customer bathrooms.

Jackson also alleged that she was pressured after hiring two Black hostesses, one of whom was eventually accused of stealing a white customer’s purse and was fired. The other was moved to a position in the back of the restaurant “where she could not be seen by customers.” This behavior, Jackson claimed, left her the victim of discrimination as well, because she could not provide a safe work environment for the employees she managed, and damaged her relationship with Black employees.

Business Partners Bolt

It was during Deen’s deposition for the lawsuit that she admitted to using the N-word, claiming in a later television interview that it happened one time decades ago.

After the deposition was made public, Scripps Networks Interactive, the owner of Food Network, became the first of at least 12 companies to end their business relationship with Deen. Smithfield Foods, Walmart, Target (No. 20 in the DiversityInc Top 50), QVC, Caesars Entertainment, Home Depot, Novo Nordisk, jcpenney (No. 50), Sears and Kmart all terminated or suspended various endorsement deals.

Deen’s multi-book publishing deal was also canceled.

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