Paula Deen and her food empire have become iconic over the past decades, producing restaurants, television shows, and the world’s best southern cooking. However, Deen’s reputation as an innocent Georgia mama has been cast into doubt by a recent lawsuit alleging racial discrimination and sexual harassment by a former employee.
Lisa T. Jackson, a former restaurant manager at Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House in Savannah, Georgia has alleged that Deen and Deen’s brother/business partner Earl W. “Bubba” Hiers committed many employment violations. These violations include “sexual harassment, racial harassment, and abusive treatment.”
Jackson’s complaint alleges that Hiers created a terrible work environment where racial epithets and misogynistic remarks were common. One such remark alleged is that Hiers repeatedly told Jackson that “If there’s one thing I learned from my sister, if it ever comes down to firing a guy or a girl, you let the girl go because they are a dime a dozen and you can always find a girl to come work for you but it’s hard to find good guys.”
The complaint continues, claiming that Hiers viewed pornography at work, made lewd jokes about female employees and lesbians, and repeatedly sexually harassed Jackson herself.
Perhaps the most astounding complaint alleged is that African American employees were not allowed to even go to the front of the restaurant, supposedly so that customers could not see them. Jackson claims that Deen herself repeatedly used racial epithets regarding African-American employees and condoned the hostile work environment.
Under Georgia law, employers are required to have a prevention policy in regards to racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Additionally, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination by employers of 15 or more employees based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
Jackson is seeking undisclosed damages against Deen, Hiers, and several related defendants. If Deen is held liable, her culinary empire will always be tainted by this discrimination lawsuit, regardless of how good her apple pie tastes.
View Jackson’s full complaint here.