Racial Bias Claims Against Paula Deen Unravel

     (CN) – A white woman who once worked for Paula Deen cannot pursue racial discrimination claims against the former Food Network star, a federal judge ruled.
     “At best, plaintiff is an accidental victim of the alleged racial discrimination,” U.S. District Judge William Moore Jr. ruled Monday, whittling down some of the lawsuit that has put Deen’s career against the ropes.
     Lisa Jackson can still pursue claims of abusive treatment and sexual harassment, according to the 20-page decision.
     Deposition in the case had ignited a media firestorm after the 66-year-old Georgia native admitted to having once used the word “nigger” after being held at gunpoint in 1987. Deen has insisted she is not racist, but she has lost countless lucrative corporate sponsorships amid other allegations, such as her desire to hold a “true Southern plantation-style wedding” for her brother, Bubba Hiers, a fellow defendant in Jackson’s case.
     Settlement talks between Jackson and Deen’s new lawyers are ongoing. A spokeswoman for Deen applauded the dismissal of the racial discrimination claims.
     “As Ms. Deen has stated before, she is confident that those who truly know how she lives her life know that she believes in equal opportunity, kindness and fairness for everyone,” Elana Weiss Rose said in a statement.
     Jackson, who started working as a hostess in February 2005 at Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House in Savannah, Ga., has claimed that Deen and Hiers subjected her to repeated “sexual harassment and discrimination, racial harassment and discrimination, and abusive treatment” over a period of five years.
     Though Jackson is white, she took offense to the alleged racial harassment at Deen’s restaurant because she has biracial nieces.
     The complaint alleged that a “racially biased attitude prevailed throughout and pervaded defendants’ restaurant operations,” and that black staff were forced to use the restaurant’s rear entrance.
     Black workers were also not allowed to use the customer restroom, nor were they allowed to serve as hostesses in the front of the restaurant, Jackson claimed.
     Hiers is also accused in the complaint of making racist jokes and repeatedly using the word “nigger.” Jackson said he once said her father, who was of Sicilian descent, “looks like a nigger,” and questioned how Jackson looked so white.
     Judge Moore found Monday that Jackson ultimately lacked standing on these claims.
     “In normal course, there is no question that the individual filing the complaint easily qualifies as a person claiming to be aggrieved: that individual, as a member of the protected class that the employer was discriminating against, was actually subjected to and suffered from the discriminatory conduct,” Moore wrote. “Exceedingly rare, and equally problematic, is a plaintiff seeking damages for her employer’s discriminatory behavior directed toward a class of individuals to which the plaintiff does not belong.”
     Under the Supreme Court’s “zone of interest” test, Jackson “is not an aggrieved party” because “her interests are not those arguably sought to be protected,” the ruling stats.
     “There are no allegations that defendant Heirs’ racially offensive comments were either directed toward plaintiff or made with the intent to harass her,” Moore wrote.
     “Quite simply,” Moore wrote, “workplace harmony is not an interest sought to be protected” by federal law.
     He added: “While plaintiff may have faced significant challenges in managing a workplace allegedly permeated with racial discrimination, her difficulties do not fall with the zone of interests” that protect against racial discrimination.
     The surviving claims point to an alleged “boys’ club” environment “where men occupy management positions and women are not invited to take on substantial decision-making roles.”
     Jackson claimed that she was denied promotions because male managers “would never allow a woman to tell them what they need to do.”
     She also complained that she was subjected to sexual harassment daily from Hiers, who allegedly frequently viewed pornography at work and asked her to look at the pornography with him.
     Jackson is represented by S. Wesley Woolf of Savannah.

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