Judge Declares That Paula Deen Is Not A Racist, The Rest Of Us, Uh, Disagree
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Judge Declares That Paula Deen Is Not A Racist, The Rest Of Us, Uh, Disagree

By Joanna Robinson | Miscellaneous | August 13, 2013 | Comments ()


Yesterday a federal judge threw out the racial discrimination case against Paula Deen. A manager of one of Deen’s restaurants sued the Food Network star and her brother, Bubba Hiers, citing sexual harassment and racially offensive talk. U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore Jr. ruled that the claimant Lisa Jackson (who is white) had no cause to sue Deen and her brother because “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 sexual harassment charge stands, but because Jackson herself was not the subject of racial slurs, she has no case. There are a few gnarly HR laws that Jackson could invoke in the appeals process, but the gist is that just being a witness to racial discrimination is no basis for a case. Jackson claims she was offended because she has biracial nieces. I’d also argue that watching fellow coworkers be denied the use of the front door or the company restrooms would offend anyone with a heart and eyeballs.

The question of Deen (and her brother’s) racism is, indeed, thorny. Deen and her camp see this ruling as absolution. I see it as a technicality. In a brilliant piece back in June, Dustin Rowles addressed the nature of casual, Southern racism. His final assessment of Deen?

Paula Deen will continue to make the argument of denial, and she may continue to insist that she believes everyone should be treated the same, claiming it’s the way she was raised. She will believe it so deeply that both she — and the hundreds of thousands of her supporters — will feel crucified by those who pull their support. Paula Deen is a racist, but because of the way she was raised, she may never realize it. So how can you deliver an honest apology when you don’t even understand when you’ve done something wrong?

If you’ll pardon the phrasing, my assessment is much more black and white. Paula Deen, her brother and the use of the N-word?

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • e jerry powell

    Unfortunately, very few people will resist claiming victory achieved by virtue of a technicality in most situations. The legal technicality is, as your title suggests, pretty transparent in the court of public opinion. I wasn't particularly surprised that the charge of racial discrimination was tossed; I was more surprised that it was included to begin with, but because it brought so much to light, I can only say that I ain't mad.

  • Salieri2

    Hang about, you dead guys--what about the sexism part of Jackson's complaint? Does that get tossed because of the question of standing, since it was all rolled into one big complaint, or does she have a leg to, uh, stand on there? The allegations I read seemed pretty clear that she believed Deen & Co specifically denied her promotion, compensation and upscale transfer based on her gender.

  • e jerry powell

    Good question. Maybe the filed complaint is accessible through some website, but I don't even know which court the suit was filed in to look it up.

  • Salieri2

    Here's the complaint, it's a pretty fast read and frankly, kind of juicier than one might expect.

    The sexual harassment stuff starts on page 12 and Jackson's attempts to address it in-house start on page 19.

    I can accept the validity of lack of standing to sue for harassment not actually directed at you--that seems like an appropriate legal necessity or else our litigious country would be even more awash in frivolous lawsuits than we are. And I can come up with lots of reasons to imagine the the people directly affected by Buddy's racism and Paula's corporate acceptance/endorsement of it might not file the complaint themselves.

    But I also wonder what merit there might be in Jackson's complaint about upper management's actions creating an unsafe work environment. As a personnel manager, she claims it was her job to maintain a safe work environment for the employees she supervised; to me, that seems reasonable. Apart from the failure to create an employee handbook or meet with HR regarding her complaints, Buddy assaulting that one guy in the kitchen seems like the kind of thing that cuts her authority out from under her, as well as any notion that the employer gives a damn. The civil complaint, therefore, is not only about How Badly We're All Treated, but How Difficult That Makes My Job. Which I'd like to hear more about.

  • e jerry powell

    But that last bit doesn't make for compelling news bites, alas, so nobody will probably ever talk about it outside a courtroom, if at all.

    Thanks for the link snag!

  • The Pink Hulk

    While I'm not going to imply that Paula Deen is NOT a racist, because I genuinely don't know and don't actually even care anymore, I will say that it is interesting that Pajiba authors take as FACT what Lisa Jackson CLAIMS happened (the use of the N-word, the separate restrooms, etc.) but completely dismiss what Deen counters as to what happened. In my estimation, Jackson lost all credibility when I found out she was white and that her biracial niece (Hispanic and white, by the way) hadn't had a relationship with her in over 5 years. Give me a break.

  • True_Blue

    So--what _was_ Paula's explanation for the separate bathroom for black staff? That is something which can be verified. As for Jackson's niece part-Hispanic and not black--in my experience, people who use the N word have "special" names for Hispanic people, too.

  • The Pink Hulk

    Sooooo...was it verified? By whom?

    And just because that is your experience as to dealing with racist people doesn't mean it applies to Deen.

  • True_Blue

    The existence of segregated bathroom is verifiable in the sense that her past employees _can_ be queried. It's not a "he said/she said behind closed doors" kind of thing, where you only have words from opposing parties.

    Paula admitted to using the N word on multiple occasions, and wanting black employees to dress up like plantation house slaves. I suppose it's possible that Paula is special and is racist only against black people. But Occam's razor and all that.

  • Robert

    Didn't Deen testify in court that she said some pretty racist things? I'm pretty sure that's where the blow-up started since this case has been slow-moving from the start. That, and her long-time employee confirming the "dress as a plantation slave to ring the dinner bell and start service" accusation seem like a lot of verification to me. Or was saying that, yes, she wanted to have a plantation themed wedding with an all black wait staff (who she would never call the n-word because they were actually hard-working people, her general sentiment when answering that question) somehow not confirmation that Paula Deen says racist things?

  • SackBlabbath

    it's because here some people (with the correct opinions) are more equal than others... this is a classic irresolvable Wedge Issue if there ever was one.
    A two-minute hate against Paula Deen does nothing to actually improve race relations, or to help poeple see that such superficial differences are really just that.
    Instead we get sanctimony & an increasing "racism chill" - charges of such a thoughtcrime leveled against others at the least provocation.
    Take an honest look at who is really benefitting from this & similar sideshows; in whose interest is it to keep the country divided along racial lines?

    Identity Politics, like Financialization is quickliy destroying Society from within, like a cancer.
    Paula Deen may indeed be a clueless racist, but that doesn't make her smug detractors here any better than her.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Good morning, everyb---

    [backing slowly out of thread]

  • The Replicant Brooke

    Over heeeere. *whispers from the rafters*

  • lowercase_see

    Tangentially related, I recently re-read Hunger Games and there's a bit where Katniss and Gale have a disagreement that ends with him asking her if she wants him to lie and she responds, "No, I want you to rethink it and come to the right conclusion."

    Deen is Gale in this scenario.

  • Jiffylush

    As an American straight white male I am only offendable by proxy. There isn't a name that you can call me that will hurt my feelings based on anything about my race, creed, nationality, sexual orientation or whatever. That being said I am easily offended by people who say or do things directed at others that I find offensive. Working in a business with open and blatant racism/sexism/homophobia is a hostile work environment even if you aren't the target.

    As far as what the judge said I see him saying that Paula and her brother are clearly racist, but that an employee that the racism wasn't directed at can't sue them for it.

    I agree with Dustin's assessment (how can you apologize for something you don't think is wrong) but as someone who has spent their life in the south I would take it a step further. I think she was shocked that anyone cared that she said the n-word or did weird apparently racist things. She probably blames "the media" (liberals) for blowing it out of proportion and thinks that her "real fans" don't care about that at all.

    I will be 40 this year and can safely say that racism is pervasive, especially in the older generations. The justification seems to be that that is how they were raised and that is how things were. It also seems common to believe that it's fine as long as you aren't mean spirited when you do it.

  • Sean

    The fact that you're "Easily offended" says more about you than what others might say.

  • ljridley

    Sure, if you mean that calling himself "easily offended" says that he is thoughtful enough to hear what some people say about other people (who are not him) and have opinion about it.

  • Deidra

    Yes, of course they're racist, but the ruling isn't about that. It's that you can't sue your employer for damages for yourself because you're offended on someone else's behalf. Harassment in all its forms still needs to be reported, but this isn't how Title VII works.

  • Boston Red

    TBH, the court didn't say she isn't racist ... just that the plaintiff wasn't harmed by the actions that might be considered harassment if she were another race.

  • CMooreVerdad

    yep. was a question of standing and demonstrated harm. comes into play surprisingly often.

  • Slash

    Yeah, this.

  • **I AM** NotTheOne

    That's pretty sad. So I am not Muslim. But if the managers at my company are making anti-Muslim remarks and treating Muslims in a discriminatory fashion it doesn't harm me. And if I see one of the female managers sexually harassing a male co-worker I shouldn't even bother to report it because what does it have to do with me, right?

    Hell with it. I'm going to work now.

  • Millie_Woods

    You make me sick.

  • googergieger

    Yeah, you must know exactly what that person is going through. Heck, you must feel a hell of a lot worse than they do. Yup.

  • birdgal

    Same thing happened with Prop 8 being 'overturned' by the Supreme Court. It was actually overturned by a circuit/appeals judge in CA and the Prop 8 supporters (religious groups and the like) appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court because the state of CA refused to fight the ruling. The Supreme Court then ruled that the group of Prop 8 supporters had 'no standing' in the case, essentially upholding the circuit court's decision that Prop 8 was unconstitutional. I guess if the state had brought the appeal, they would have had 'standing' and the Supreme Court could have actually ruled Prop 8 constitutional/unconstitutional. Regardless, the decision in the Paula Deen case does not absolve her of being a racist (which I personally think she is), just that this particular person has no standing to bring a racial discrimination case against her.

  • Ruthie O

    Exactly. This sort of ruling support and promotes bystander apathy.

  • fiveoclock

    No, it doesn't mean you shouldn't report it, it means that you have no standing to sue and receive money damages for it. Damages, in most situations, are reserved for the folks who suffered direct harm. Not for people offended by someone working a harm on some third person. The law doesn't allow for recovery for all of life's insults and indignities. Sometimes you have to do what's right, like reporting harrassment, even without expectation of monetary gain. Imagine that.

  • googergieger


  • e jerry powell

    Shush. You know we don't do logic in America.

  • CMooreVerdad

    Though I thought she might have had a case for hostile work environment. I imagine that's what they were arguing.

  • e jerry powell

    In which case the burden becomes one of proving that the racially tense environment was more than a few isolated incidents. Maybe she can, maybe she can't, but at least Deen still had to go on record this time around.

  • sanity fair

    There still has to be some DIRECT harm. That's why they talked about the biracial nieces--to try to show her familial relationships could lead to direct harm based on Deen's work environment. But the law doesn't recognize such things right now.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Yes, exactly. The courts are not a final moral arbiter - they are a legal decision.

  • Ruthie O

    Touche, and well said.

  • Guest

    Side note: Anyone else wonder what happen to the "That's Racist" kid?

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