- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 6, 2012

SAVANNAH, Ga. — The former general manager of a Savannah restaurant co-owned by Paula Deen claimed in a lawsuit filed Monday that she was sexually harassed and subjected to a hostile work environment rife with sexual innuendo, physical intimidation and racial slurs.

Lisa Jackson said in the lawsuit, filed in Chatham County Superior Court, that her physician encouraged her to quit working at Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House because she suffered from panic attacks and other stress from working there. The restaurant is owned by Ms. Deen and her brother Bubba Hiers.

Ms. Jackson said in the lawsuit that Mr. Hiers routinely made inappropriate sexual and racial remarks and that she heard both Mr. Hiers and Ms. Deen use racial slurs. She also said in the lawsuit that she saw Mr. Hiers violently shake a black employee and that he fostered an environment of intimidation.

A spokesman for Ms. Deen declined to comment on the pending litigation, and Mr. Hiers didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.

Ms. Jackson, who is white, was hired at the restaurant in February 2005 and within months was promoted to general manager with a mandate from Ms. Deen to turn it into a success.

Mr. Hiers soon began targeting her with unwanted advances, she said, and he watched pornography in the small office that the two shared. He also distributed pictures of two women having sex at an office meeting and complained about heavier staff members, the complaint said.

She said Mr. Hiers made racially insensitive remarks and that his restaurant required black staff members to use the back entrance and banned them from using a customer restroom that white staffers were allowed to use.

During one meeting in July 2010, she said, Mr. Hiers violently shook a black male kitchen worker. Ms. Deen later invited the man to her mansion to smooth things over rather than address her brother’s conduct, the lawsuit said. In another incident, Mr. Hiers challenged his staffers to a fight, she said.

Ms. Jackson said she routinely suffered from panic attacks that often began when Mr. Hiers came to work each morning. The situation came to a head in August 2010 when, Ms. Jackson said, Mr. Hiers grabbed her face during a dinner for vendors at the restaurant and declared “I love you,” then later screamed at her and spit in her face.

Ms. Jackson said she left her job days later after her doctor suggested that quitting her job would improve her health. She said in the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, that she “continues to endure immense pain and has suffered greatly at the hands of Defendants’ outrageous and intolerable conduct.”