SAVANNAH, Ga. (CN) – A former manager of a restaurant owned by TV chef Paula Deen and Deen’s brother claims in Superior Court that she endured five years of sexual harassment, racial harassment of her staff, and assault, forcing her to quit.
Lisa T. Jackson sued Paula Deen, Paula Deen Enterprises, The Lady & Sons LLC, The Lady Enterprises, Earl W. “Bubba” Hiers, and Uncle’s Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House, in Chatham County Court. Hiers is Deen’s brother.
Jackson says she began working with Paula Deen Enterprises at Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House as a hostess in 2005, and was promoted to general manager within six months.
Jackson says the harassment from Bubba Hiers was relentless for five years.
“Ms. Jackson was subject to sexually harassing conduct by Bubba Hiers every single day Ms. Jackson came to work for over five (5) years,” the complaint states. “In addition to inescapable pornography he brought to the workplace, Bubba Hiers’ harassing and abusive comments were often loud and without apparent concern for customers, vendors, staff or anyone else near him.”
Jackson says it was impossible for her to escape the pornography because she and Hiers shared a company email address, and he used the restaurant’s kitchen computer, in plain sight of employees, to visit porn sites and download content from them.
“On more than one occasion, Bubba Hiers requested that Ms. Jackson bring pictures of herself when she was young for him to view,” the complaint states. “He told her ‘you have nice legs’ and that two other employees are ‘fat girls’, commenting that (because of their weight) they did not need to be wearing capri pants or skirts.”
Hiers commented to one of Jackson’s female co-workers, who had recently received dentures, “I bet your husband is going to like that,” and he joked with the staff saying that men should have sex with women with flat heads because, “you can sit your beer on top of her head while she is giving you a blow job,” according to the complaint says.
The complaint adds: “At a weekly manager’s meeting that included Ms. Jackson, Bubba Hiers brought printouts of an email that stated ‘Why Gay Marriage should be legal,” and showed pictures of women having sex with other women. Mr. Hiers proceeded to pass these pictures around the table for everyone to see. …”
Jackson claims that the staff she managed, primarily African-American, were subjected to frequent angry outbursts by Hiers, laced with racial epithets along with the threat and reality of physical violence against them.
“Ms. Jackson was subjected to violent behavior by Bubba Hiers, violent behavior that included sexual harassment of Ms. Jackson and other female employees and assault and battery of Ms. Jackson,” the complaint states. “Mr. Hiers’ violent behavior also included racial harassment, assault, battery and other humiliating conduct practiced upon the employees managed by Ms. Jackson. The conduct described herein is no mere offensive utterance; the conduct was threatening, even physically, and universally humiliating. The staff of Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House … lived in fear of Bubba Hiers.”
Jackson claims that after she reported a sexually harassing comment a white employee made toward an African-American member of the kitchen staff, Hiers physically assaulted an African-American witness to the comment.
“Seething with anger and red in the face with concern that the African-American male kitchen staff might speak to someone about this incident, Mr. Heirs repeatedly screamed at him asking him what he saw,” the complaint states. “The witness’ answer was ‘can I plead the 5th Amendment?’ Unsatisfied with that response, Mr. Hiers physically and violently shook him and stated ‘fuck your civil rights … you work for me and my sister Paula Deen,’ saying further, ‘you’re not going to get me fired over some little bitch.’ Mr. Hiers proceeded to physically and violently shake this individual. Ms. Jackson in the small office with both Mr. Hiers and this witness at the time.”
Jackson says Deen promoted her to general manager after the previous manager had been accused of having sex with members of the staff, “a matter disregarded by Bubba Hiers.”
The complaint continues: “In a meeting with that general manager and Ms. Jackson, Paula Deen terminated that general manager and stated to Bubba Hiers, ‘if you think I have worked this hard to lose everything because of a piece of pussy, you better think again.’ Paula Deen continued, ‘and now I am going to do something I have never done. I am going to put a woman in a man’s job.’ Paula Deen gave Ms. Jackson six months to turn the restaurant from a failure to a success.
“Upon her promotion to general manager, Bubba Hiers stated to Ms. Jackson, ‘you’re everything I’ve never wanted but everything I need – a woman to clean my business up.”
Once the restaurant began to turn a profit, Jackson says, Hiers began referring to her as “my little Jew girl.”
She claims the restaurant turned a profit under her managership “despite the taking of cash from the restaurant’s receipts by Bubba Hiers – sometimes as much as approximately $26,000 per month.”
Jackson claims that Deen shared her brother’s penchant for racially harassing comments, as she continued to work for her in other capacities besides general manager of Uncle Bubba’s.
“Paula Deen placed Ms. Jackson in charge of food and serving arrangements for the wedding of her brother Bubba Hiers in 2007. When Ms. Jackson asked Ms. Deen what look the wedding should have, Ms. Deen replied, ‘I want a true Southern plantation-style wedding,'” according to the complaint.
“Asked by Ms. Jackson what type uniforms she preferred servers to wear, Paula Deen stated, ‘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.’ Paula Deen laughed and said ‘Now that would be a true Southern wedding, wouldn’t it? But we can’t do that because the media would be on me about that.’ Ms. Jackson did not laugh, stating ‘no, we can’t do that;’ a pregnant pause followed and the meeting ended shortly thereafter. The same attitude prevailed with restaurant operations.”
Jackson says she was forced to quit after a 2010 party for Uncle Bubba’s restaurant vendors. She claims that Hiers “committed a battery upon Ms. Jackson by, among other actions, forcibly and unlawfully grabbing her face and kissing her and spitting upon her.”
She adds: “Ms. Jackson’s reasonable fear, emotional and physical distress, and related injuries were the direct, legal and proximate consequence of defendant Bubba Hiers’ intentional and illegal conduct of assault.”
After the event, Jackson says she was hospitalized for panic attacks, at her physician’s request, and she realized she had to terminate her employment with Deen.
“During her tenure, Ms. Jackson built a family of committed staff for whom she cared deeply. She was their supervisor and was responsible for providing them a safe work environment, free from sexual and racial harassment,” the complaint states. “Despite many efforts to provide such a work environment, she was unable to do so. Bubba Hiers’ conduct interfered with Ms. Jackson’s relationships with the staff she called family and upon whom she relied to accomplish the business of running a restaurant, causing her immense personal emotional and physical distress.”
Jackson seeks lost wages and compensatory and punitive damages for sexual harassment, assault, battery, negligence and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
She is represented by S. Wesley Woolf of Savannah.