Paula Deen’s N-Word Admission Is Only the Tip

     SAVANNAH, Ga. (CN) – Paula Deen says the white woman suing her lacks standing to pursue claims over alleged racial harassment that caused the celebrity chef to lose endorsement deals.
     Lisa Jackson, the former manager of one of Deen’s restaurants, sued Deen; her brother Bubba Hiers; and their companies last year, alleging that Hiers had subjected her and the staff to sexual and racial harassment. Jackson claimed that Hiers, her supervisor at Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House, watched pornography in the workplace, often made inappropriate comments, used racial slurs and was violent toward the primarily black kitchen staff. Jackson said she was forced to quit after enduring five years of harassment and abuse, which caused her panic attacks.
     Hiers manages Uncle Bubba’s and co-owns it with Deen, according to the complaint.
     Though Deen was not involved in Uncle Bubba’s daily operations, Jackson also claimed that she shared her brother’s penchant for racial slurs and jokes.
     When asked what kind of wedding she wanted to organize for her brother in 2007, Deen allegedly replied, “Well, what I would really like is a bunch of little niggers to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties, you know, like the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around.”
     Deen went on to say that she could not have a “true Southern plantation-style wedding” because of media scrutiny, according to the complaint.
     During her May deposition in the case, Deen defended her brother’s character and his ability to run Uncle Bubba’s. She said she did not remember Jackson or other employees complaining about Hiers’ conduct in the workplace.
     “My brother and I, 25 years ago, quite by accident, each started a business and we each had $200 to start that business,” Deen testified. “My brother built the most successful long-service business in Albany, Georgia with his $200. My brother is completely capable unless he’s being sabotaged.”
     The 66-year-old grandmother claimed that Jackson lied about Hiers attacking an employee in the kitchen to force him to keep quiet about a racial slur incident he had witnessed. The employee also supposedly confirmed Hiers’ story.
     And when Paula Deen Enterprises hired outside consultants to address complaints at Uncle Bubba’s, Jackson misled them and “blew things out of proportion,” according to Deen’s deposition.
     Noting that her brother had admitted to viewing porn videos at work during his deposition, Deen said she never confronted Hiers about it and would not have disciplined him for it in any case.
     “I – I know all the men in my family at one time or another they’ll tell each other, look what so and so sent me on my phone, you know,” Deen said. “It’s just men being men.”
     Deen caught the most heat, however, for admitting that both her and Hiers had used racial slurs and had told “off-colored jokes.”
     “I’m sure those kind of jokes have been told,” Deen said. “Every man I’ve ever come in contact with has one.”
     Saying that she “of course” had used the N word herself, Deen described an incident years ago “when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head.”
     Though Deen said she could not remember the specifics, she elaborated that “the gun was dancing all around my temple.”
     “I didn’t – I didn’t feel real favorable towards him,” she added.
     The lawyer questioning her in deposition asked Deen if she used “the N word to him as he pointed a gun in your head at your face?”
     “Absolutely not,” Deen replied.
     Rather, the word came up “probably in telling my husband.”
     The lawyer then asked Deen if she had used the word since.
     “I’m sure I have, but it’s been a very long time,” Deen replied.
     Though Deen said she could not remember the context in which she used the N word, she denied that it “has occurred with sufficient frequency that [she] cannot recall all of the various context in which [she has] used it.”
     “Maybe in repeating something that was said to me,” she went on.
     Not a joke, “probably a conversation between blacks. I don’t – I don’t know.”
     “But that’s just not a word that we use as time has gone on,” the chef continued. “Things have changed since the ’60s in the south. And my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior.
     “As well as I do.”
     Deen insisted she and Hiers did not discriminate sexually or racially against their employees, and did not tolerate harassment in the workplace.
     Contrary to Jackson’s claims, all the employees at Uncle Bubba’s used the same entrance and the same restrooms, according to Deen’s deposition.
     Deen also said her statements about Hiers’ wedding were misinterpreted. She claimed she had described to Jackson a restaurant in North Carolina or Tennessee, where middle-aged black waiters had impressed her with their neat appearance and professionalism, and that she wanted a similar waiting staff for the wedding.
     Deen said the restaurant evoked “a certain era in America,” around the Civil War, but that she had not meant anything derogatory by it.
     And while her jokes often have a sexual nuance, Deen stays away from racial jokes, according to her deposition.
     “Most – most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks,” Deen said. “Most jokes target – I don’t know. I didn’t make up the jokes, I don’t know. I can’t – I don’t know. … They usually target, though, a group. Gays or straights, black, redneck, you know, I just don’t know — I just don’t know what to say. I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person.”
     These admissions led Food Network last week to fire Deen, who became a celebrity chef and TV star after Random House picked up her first cook book in the late 1990s.
     Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, J.C. Penney and other major partners also reportedly severed ties with Deen’s businesses.
     During a Today Show interview Wednesday, Deen became emotional and said there have been “some very hurtful lies said about me.”
     She insisted she was not a racist and would never hurt anyone on purpose.
     “If there’s anyone out there that has never said something that they wish they could take back, please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me,” Deen said, echoing a line from her deposition. “Please. I want to meet you.”
     In the meantime, the legal battle over discovery and privileged information has waged on.
     Deen moved for sanctions Thursday, noting a motion from Hiers that says Jackson, as a white woman, lacks standing to pursue race-based claims of discrimination.
     The Hiers motion also accused Jackson of lying about her supposed biracial nieces to make the matter of race seem more personal.
     During her deposition, Jackson conceded that the nieces were those of her partner, who testified that she had not seen them in five years, and that their father was actually Hispanic.
     “Jackson’s deposition also puts the lie to her allegations regarding Paula Deen,” according to the Hiers motion. “Jackson testified that she has never heard Paula Deen make a racist remark, other than when she described the clothing she’d like the wait staff to wear at her brother’s wedding. However, Jackson mentioned nothing in her deposition about Paula Deen ever using the N word, despite describing the ‘sum total of the conversation.’ …
     “Thus, in the more than two months since Jackson and [her partner] Sumerlin’s testimony and despite knowing that Jackson’s race based claims hung by the thinnest of threads previously, Jackson’s counsel have neither corrected the second amended complaint, nor any of their briefs before this court where they held Jackson’s lie up as support for her race based claims.”
     In an earlier brief, Deen and her brother accused Jackson’s lawyer of giving the National Enquirer a videotape of Paula Deen’s deposition to create “a tabloid-type hysteria.”
     Jackson meanwhile has fought an attempt by Hiers to redact information about his drug and alcohol addiction treatment. She also defended a sanction against Hiers for allowing a manager to destroy highly relevant pornographic emails Hiers had received at work. The former employee filed three briefs on these issues last week.
     As of Friday, the case was not yet scheduled for trial.

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