Judge tosses race discrimination charge against Paula Deen

Posted at 8:18 PM, Aug 12, 2013

By Alan Duke

(CNN) — A federal judge has dismissed the racial discrimination claims in a lawsuit filed by a former employee against Paula Deen, the celebrity chef’s representative said Monday.

The former employee can’t claim to be a victim of racial discrimination targeting African-American workers because she is white, U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr. ruled. “At best, plaintiff is an accidental victim of the alleged racial discrimination,” Moore wrote.

Other aspects of the lawsuit, including sexual harassment and abusive treatment, are still pending.

“We are pleased with the Court’s ruling today that Lisa Jackson’s claims of race discrimination have been dismissed,” Deen’s representatives said in a statement to CNN. “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.”

Deen’s career and public reputation went into a tailspin earlier this summer after her deposition in the lawsuit, in which she admitted using the n-word in the past, was released. Dean has insisted she does not tolerate prejudice, but her apologies have failed to suppress the controversy.

Former employee Lisa Jackson alleged in the federal suit that Deen and her brother Bubba Hier committed numerous acts of violence, discrimination and racism that resulted in the end of her five years of employment at The Lady and Sons, and Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House, two Savannah, Georgia, restaurants run by Deen and her family.

Savannah is where Deen built her business and brand into what many consider the folksy face of Southern cooking.

In the media firestorm that followed, Deen lost lucrative endorsements and her Food Network cooking show, while the publication of her eagerly anticipated cookbook was canceled.

Jackson’s complaint alleged that a “racially biased attitude prevailed throughout and pervaded defendants restaurant operations,” and that African-American staff could use the restaurant’s rear entrance only.

She claimed that a racist atmosphere caused her “immense personal and work related emotional and physical distress” because “employees came to her complain and for help, which she felt obligated to give but was unable to fully provide.”

She suffered from the discrimination because “the conduct denies her right to associate in the workplace with persons of other races,” the suit said. It deprived her of “harmonious working relationships with her African-American subordinates” and denied her “the right to work free from racial harassment,” it alleged.

“There are no allegations that defendant Hier’s racially offensive comments were either directed toward plaintiff or made with the intent to harass her,” the judge ruled.

Deen and Hier still face the sex harassment allegations by Jackson, who began as a hostess at Uncle Bubba’s in 2005 and worked her way up to general manager before she was fired in August 2010.

The complaint said the company was a “boy’s club” with men in management positions, “and women are not invited to take on substantial decision-making roles.”

Jackson contended that Hier subjected her to sexual harassment on “an almost daily basis.”

CNN’s Jane Caffrey contributed to this report.

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