Paula Deen Suit Thrown Out, but Sanctions Loom
SAVANNAH, Ga. (CN) - A federal judge Monday ended the lawsuit that has shattered Paula Deen's public image and cost the celebrity chef millions of dollars in business deals.
In a lawsuit filed last year, former employee Lisa Jackson accused Deen's brother, Bubba Hiers, of sexual harassment and racial discrimination against employees. Hiers, who co-owns Uncle Bubba's Seafood & Oyster House with Deen, was Jackson's direct supervisor for five years, according to court filings.
The lawsuit also alleged that Deen tolerated racial discrimination in her enterprises, and occasionally made racially charged remarks.
After Deen's deposition in May revealed that she had once used the word "nigger" after a black man held her at gunpoint in 1987, the former Food Network star lost a reported $12.5 million in endorsement deals.
U.S. District Judge William Moore Jr. dismissed the lawsuit early this morning, after the parties filed an agreement to dismiss with prejudice Friday.
The order came less than two weeks after Moore tossed the racial discrimination claims against Deen, finding that Jackson, who is white, lacked standing and was at best "an accidental victim of the alleged racial discrimination."
Though the parties' agreement to dismiss is labeled as "settlement agreement" on the docket, no actual settlement agreement was available to the public as of this morning. ABC News reported that the two sides are believed to have settled without any money changing hands.
Moore did not award any legal fees or costs, and said he would retain jurisdiction over matters unrelated to the merits of the dismissed claims.
The judge has yet to decide whether to sanction Jackson's attorney, Matthew Billips, for his alleged misconduct during the lawsuit.
Deen and Hiers had asked the court to disqualify Billips for allegedly using media attention to pressure a settlement, making inappropriate comments about the case on Twitter, and engaging in unprofessional conduct.
A magistrate judge had refused to remove Billips, and Moore affirmed but said he was likely to impose some form of sanctions for his conduct at the end of the lawsuit.
In a separate order Monday, Moore denied a request by Deen and Hiers to withdraw their sanctions motion in light of the parties' agreement to settle.
That deal will not stop the court from sanctioning Billips, Moore said.
The judge also gave Billips 20 days as of Friday to show why he should not be sanctioned.
Deen said in a statement Friday that she looked forward to putting the case behind her and to taking a close look at the working environment in her companies.
After the parties agreed to settle, Jackson issued the following statement: "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 8 years is a woman of compassion and kindness and will never tolerate discrimination or racism of any kind toward anyone. I now know that the workplace environment issues that I raised are being reviewed and will in the future no longer be at issue. I wish Ms. Deen and her family all the best in all of their future endeavors and I am very pleased that this matter has now been resolved and can now be put behind us."