On August 23, Judge William T. Moore of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Georgia dismissed Paula Deen’s sexual harassment lawsuit “with prejudice.” The announcement prompted many court observers to conclude that Deen had settled out of court with the Plaintiff, Lisa Jackson, an ex-general manager at her Deen’s Savannah, Georgia restaurant, Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House. Jackson had accused the celebrity chef and her brother, Earl W. “Bubba” Hiers, of an array of inflammatory charges, including using sexist and racist language, sexual harassment, assault, and infliction of emotional distress.
Jackson also made a racial discrimination claim against Deen. This claim was dismissed — not necessarily because the alleged racist behavior didn’t occur, but because Jackson is a white woman, so she lacked proper standing to make such a complaint.
Racism and Sexual Harassment Allegations Against Deen Sparked a Firestorm
This case kick started a national conversation. Deen’s statements — particularly towards African-Americans — cost her lucrative endorsements as well as her job on the Food Network.
Interestingly, following the dismissal of the lawsuit, Jackson released a statement that raised more than a few eyebrows: “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. 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.”
At first, Deen denied using any racial epithets around her workers. But the tide of public opinion turned swiftly on her, compelling her to make several lavish public apologies.
Deen is perhaps lucky, however, that the harassment claim did not go to a jury trial. As the corporate owner of the restaurant, she could have been individually liable for damages, including lawyers’ fees, lost wages, and punitive damages. While it’s possible that Deen could have won at a jury trial, the negative press would have further harmed her reputation and weakened her fragmented restaurant empire.
Lessons for Would-Be Sexual Harassment Plaintiffs
If you’ve been harassed, discriminated against, or retaliated against at your job – whether you work at a restaurant or other place of business – Deen’s case demonstrates clearly that even the most powerful employers can be held to account by the law.
To find out more about your potential rights as a plaintiff in a workplace harassment case, get in touch with the attorneys at Joseph & Kirschenbaum at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (212) 688-5640. We’d be happy to schedule a free consultation with you and help you fight for your rights.