(CNN) — Celebrity chef Paula Deen’s sons staunchly defended their mother Tuesday, saying allegations of racism are false “character assassination.”
“Neither one of our parents ever taught us to be bigoted toward any other person for any reason,” Bobby Deen told CNN’s “New Day” in an exclusive interview with Chris Cuomo.
“Our mother is one of the most compassionate, good-hearted, empathetic people that you’d ever meet,” he added. “These accusations are very hurtful to her, and it’s very sad.”
In a recent lawsuit deposition, Deen admitted having used the “N-word” long ago. The suit alleges discrimination and racism at two of Deen’s restaurants.
But the Deen sons — also chefs with TV shows, and part of their family’s restaurant businesses — insisted the depictions of their mother are an effort by the plaintiff to get a chunk of the family fortune.
“I’m disgusted by the entire thing, because it began as extortion and it has become character assassination,” Bobby Deen said.
Jamie Deen said it’s “ridiculous, completely absurd to think there is an environment of racism in our business, and it’s really disrespectful to the people that we work with. We have strong, educated men and women of character that have been with us for five, 10, 15, 20 years. To think they would allow themselves to be in this position is simply baloney. It’s ridiculous.”
When he was a child, Jamie Deen said, his parents taught him the story of his hero, baseball legend Hank Aaron. They explained that “the challenges (Aaron) had to overcome because of his color was unacceptable.”
Paula Deen’s fortune has taken a hit in recent days as the Food Network dropped her, as did Smithfield Foods, one of her key sponsors.
There are questions now over whether other businesses including QVC and Walmart may cut ties with the star of Southern cooking.
Deen and her brother are being sued for alleged sexual and racial harassment by a former manager of Deen’s restaurants in Savannah, Georgia.
Lisa T. Jackson’s lawsuit alleges that Deen and Bubba Hier committed numerous acts of violence, discrimination and racism that resulted in the end of her five-year tenure at Deen’s Lady & Sons and Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House eateries in Savannah.
When Dean was questioned under oath for a deposition, she was asked whether she had used the “N-word.” Deen answered that she had probably used the racial slur when talking to her husband about “when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head.”
Asked whether she had used the word since, she responded, “I’m sure I have, but it’s been a very long time.”
Jackson’s lawsuit also claims Deen wanted to plan a party in the style of a Southern plantation, staffed with black waiters dressed to resemble slaves.
In her deposition, Deen said she was speaking of an experience she had had recently in which the wait staff was composed of black men in white jackets and bowties, and that she had said she would love for Hier to “experience a very Southern style wedding” such as that.
“I did not mean anything derogatory by saying I loved their look and their professionalism,” she added.
Deen’s lawyer rejects the lawsuit’s claims of racism.
“Contrary to media reports, Ms. Deen does not condone or find the use of racial epithets acceptable,” Bill Franklin said. “She is looking forward to her day in court.”
In a video online last week, Paula Deen, 66, apologized to “to those that I have hurt.”
“My family and I are not the kind of people the press are wanting to say we are,” she said. “… Your color, your religion, your sexual preference does not matter to me. But it’s what’s in the heart, and my family and I try to live by that.”
Bobby Deen said the “N-word” was not part of their vocabulary at home. “That word, that horrifying, terrible word that exists and I abhor it coming from any person — … we weren’t raised in a home where that word was used.”
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