August 23, 2013

Sides agree to drop Paula Deen discrimination suit

The Associated Press

SAVANNAH, Ga. — Lawyers signed a deal Friday to drop a discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit against celebrity cook Paula Deen, who was dumped by the Food Network and other business partners after she said under oath that she had used racial slurs in the past.

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In this Jan. 17, 2012 file photo, celebrity chef Paula Deen poses for a portrait in New York. Lawyers signed a deal Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, to drop a discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit against Deen, who was dropped by the Food Network and other business partners after she said under oath that she had used racial slurs in the past. (AP Photo/Carlo Allegri, File)

A document filed in U.S. District Court in Savannah said both sides agreed to drop the lawsuit "without any award of costs or fees to any party." No other details of the agreement were released. The judge in the case had not signed an order to finalize the dismissal.

Former employee Lisa Jackson last year sued Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers, 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.

The dismissal deal came less than two weeks after Judge William T. Moore threw out the race discrimination claims, ruling Jackson, who is white, had no standing to sue over what she said was poor treatment of black workers. He let Jackson's claims of sexual harassment stand, but the deal drops those also.

The lawsuit would be dismissed "with prejudice," which means it can't be brought again with the same claims.

"While this has been a difficult time for both my family and myself, I am pleased that the judge dismissed the race claims and I am looking forward to getting this behind me," Deen said in a statement Friday.

Jackson also issued a statement that backpedaled on assertions that Deen held "racist views."

"I assumed that all of my complaints about the workplace environment were getting to Paula Deen, but I learned during this matter that this was not the case," Jackson said in the statement, which was confirmed by her attorney. "The Paula Deen I have known for more than eight years is a woman of compassion and kindness and will never tolerate discrimination or racism of any kind toward anyone."

It wasn't Jackson's racism allegations, but rather Deen's own words that ended up causing serious damage to her public image and pocketbook. The lawsuit got little public attention for more than a year until Jackson's lawyer questioned Deen under oath in May. A transcript of the deposition became public in June, and it caused an immediate backlash against Deen.

Deen was asked if she has ever used the N-word. "Yes, of course," Deen replied, though she added: "It's been a very long time."

Within a few days, the Food Network didn't renew Deen's contract and yanked her shows off the air. Smithfield Foods, the pork producer that paid Deen as a celebrity endorser, dropped her soon after.

Retailers including Wal-Mart and Target said they'll no longer sell Deen's products and publisher Ballantine scuttled plans for her upcoming cookbook even though it was the No. 1 seller on Amazon. Deen also parted company with her longtime New York agent, Barry Weiner, who had worked to turn Deen into a comfort-food queen since she was little more than a Savannah restaurant owner and self-publisher of cookbooks.

The judge issued an order Friday saying he still plans a hearing on whether Jackson's lead attorney, Matthew Billips, should be sanctioned for what Deen's lawyers called unprofessional conduct in the case. In earlier court filings Deen's lawyers said Billips threatened Deen with embarrassing media exposure, made inappropriate comments about the cook and the lawsuit on Twitter and purposefully asked Deen embarrassing questions that weren't relevant to the case during her deposition.

(Continued on page 2)

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