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?