- Associated Press - Monday, August 12, 2013

SAVANNAH, Ga. — A federal judge Monday threw out race discrimination claims by a former Savannah restaurant manager whose lawsuit against Paula Deen has already cost the celebrity cook a valuable chunk of her culinary empire.

Lisa Jackson sued Ms. Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers, last year saying she suffered from sexual harassment and racially offensive talk and employment practices that were unfair to black workers during her five years as a manager of Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House. Ms. Deen is co-owner of the restaurant, which is primarily run by her brother.

But claims of race discrimination by Ms. Jackson, who is white, were gutted in the 20-page opinion by U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore Jr. The judge agreed with lawyers for Ms. Deen and Mr. Hiers that Ms. Jackson has no standing to sue her former employers for what she claims was poor treatment of black workers, regardless of her claims that she was offended and placed under additional stress.

Ms. Jackson, at best, “is an accidental victim of the alleged racial discrimination,” Mr. Moore said in his ruling. “There are no allegations that defendant Hiers’s racially offensive comments were either directed toward plaintiff or made with the intent to harass her.”

The ruling lets stand Ms. Jackson’s claims that Mr. Hiers sexually harassed her when she worked at the restaurant from 2005 to 2010. However, the judge said he was reserving the chance to rule on requests from Ms. Deen’s lawyers to dismiss other claims in the lawsuit.

The judge added that to allow Ms. Jackson to seek legal recourse for discrimination directed toward other workers “would serve to conscript federal courts as human resource departments that are responsible for imposing and monitoring a federally created standard for harmony in the workplace.”

Of course, Ms. Jackson’s race-based claims have already resulted in serious damage to Ms. Deen’s public image. It was Ms. Jackson’s lawyer who questioned Ms. Deen under oath in May when she acknowledged having used racial slurs in the past. A transcript of the legal deposition became public in June, and the backlash against Ms. Deen caused the Food Network and other corporate sponsors and business partners to drop her.

Still, Ms. Deen’s publicist issued an upbeat statement Monday.

“We are pleased with the court’s ruling today that Lisa Jackson’s claims of race discrimination have been dismissed,” Elana Weiss said in a statement emailed to the Associated Press. “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.”  

Ms. Jackson’s attorney, Matthew Billips, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. Attorneys for Ms. Deen and Mr. Hiers also did not immediately return phone calls.

The judge’s decision comes a month after Ms. Deen and Mr. Hiers dumped their attorneys and hired a new legal team. But the court motions seeking dismissal for all race-based claims in the case were filed in December, months before those changes were made.

In her lawsuit, Ms. Jackson had claimed Mr. Hiers frequently made jokes containing racial slurs at work and prohibited black workers from using the restaurant’s front entrance and customer restrooms. She said she was personally offended because she had biracial nieces.

Attorneys for Ms. Deen have said in court filings that Ms. Jackson’s lawsuit was based on “scurrilous and false claims.” They said before Ms. Jackson filed suit, she threatened to embarrass Ms. Deen publicly unless she paid the ex-employee “huge sums of money.”


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