This probably will not be my last post on the Paula Deen case. In an interesting, if not predictable, development, U.S. District Judge William T. Moore dismissed the racial discrimination portion of Lisa Jackson’s lawsuit.
In case you missed it, the Paula Deen story was a hot topic in the news and internet during June and July. In the spring of 2012, a former manager at one of Deen’s restaurants brought a lawsuit against the restaurant, Paula Deen and her brother Bubba. Jackson alleged that she was the victim of sexual harassment by Bubba. In addition to harassment claims, Jackson, who is white, brought claims of racial discrimination against the defendants who allegedly made racial slurs about African Americans. Fast forward to May 2013, and Paula Deen has her deposition taken. Paula Deen admits using the “N-word” in the past, approximately 25-30 years ago. She also admits that jokes were told at work – black jokes, Jewish jokes, redneck jokes. To be fair to Paula, there was no indication that she told the jokes. See Paula’s deposition transcript here.
Sometime in June 2013, Deen’s deposition transcript hits the press. Many labeled Paula Deen a racist and threatened to boycott the Food Network. The Food Network decided not to renew Deen’s contract, which was due to expire June 30, 2013. Deen’s fans are upset and have decided to boycott the Food Network. Later, Wal Mart released Paula Deen and K-Mart, and Smithfield Foods, Home Depot, etc. etc. all released Paula Deen. Some guess that the impact of these severed relationships is in the neighborhood of $12 million. By the way, in the last week of June, Paula Deen was bigger news than the Supreme Court’s decisions on DOMA and Proposition 8.
When Jackson filed her lawsuit it was reported that she was seeking $1.2 million. Understand that I am not trying to play Monday morning QB, but if Deen’s attorneys had convinced her to settle for $750-900k, she probably would not have lost her $12 million empire. Remember this all started when Jackson quit because she alleged sexual harassment by Bubba. Moreover, the sexual harassment claim is viable. Paula testified that Bubba would look at porn at work. Because the case did not settle, Deen’s deposition became public, Deen has been labeled a racist, and Corporate America has decided to distance itself from her.
Ironically, the judge dismissed the race discrimination case. Near the end of a twenty page decision on race discrimination, Judge Moore ruled:
Plaintiff is not an aggrieved party under Title VII because her interests are not arguably sought to be protected by that statute. At best, Plaintiff is an accidental victim of the alleged racial discrimination. There are no allegations that Defendant Hier’s racially offensive comments were either directed toward Plaintiff or made with the intent to harass her.
For whatever its worth, the lawyers on both sides are working very hard on this case. There is little doubt that the next move by either side will generate further interest in the Paula Deen saga.
If you have questions about employment discrimination or labor and employment law, give Rich Bradford a call at (813) 413-2402.
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