Last month, Food Network chef Paula Deen gave a videotaped deposition as part of a discrimination suit she’s facing in which she discussed her desire to have a “very southern style wedding” for her brother modeled after a restaurant where the “whole entire wait staff was middle-aged black men” clad in white jackets and black bow ties, according to a transcript of the deposition filed in federal court in Georgia. Deen also admitted to having used the N word and discussed the ways the word could be “not said in a mean way.”
Deen, her brother Earl “Bubba” Hiers, her company, and the corporations that operate a pair of restaurants she owns in Savannah, Ga., are being sued by a former employee named Lisa Jackson. A complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia by Jackson’s attorney, Matthew Billips, last November alleged she was subjected to “violent, sexist, and racist behavior” during five years working for Deen’s various businesses.
According to the complaint, Jackson began working for Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House, a restaurant run by Hiers, in early 2005 and left in August 2010 due to the inappropriate behavior she said she was subjected to in her time there. In the deposition, Deen said she owns half of the corporation that operates Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House. Jackson also said she did some other work for Deen’s company and a restaurant she runs. The complaint alleged “racially discriminatory attitudes pervade” Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House where Jackson claimed African-American employees were required to use separate bathrooms and entrances from white staffers. Jackson also said African-Americans were held to “different, more stringent, standards” than whites at the restaurant and that Hiers regularly made offensive racial remarks. In the complaint, Jackson is described as a “white female.” However the complaint noted she has biracial nieces, so “derogatory remarks regarding African Americans are even more personally offensive to Ms. Jackson than they would be to another white citizen.”
Along with the allegations of racism, Jackson’s complaint accuses Hiers of making inappropriate sexual comments and forcing her to look at pornography with him. The complaint also said Hiers violently shook employees on multiple occasions and came to work in an “almost constant state of intoxication.”
Jackson’s complaint also accuses Deen of racism and enabling Hiers’ behavior. According to the complaint, Deen and other managers at her companies ignored Jackson’s attempts to discuss Hiers’ behavior. As evidence that Deen “holds such racist views herself,” the complaint details an incident that occurred when Jackson was in charge of “food and serving arrangements” at Hier’s wedding in 2007. The complaint includes a comment Deen allegedly made when asked by Jackson what type of uniforms the servers should wear at the wedding.
“Well what I would really like is a bunch of little niggers to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties, you know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around,” the lawsuit claims Deen asaid. “Now that would be a true southern wedding, wouldn’t it? But we can’t do that because the media would be on me about that.”
In her deposition, which was given last month, Deen denied many of the allegations against Hiers and addressed the alleged comment about his wedding. Deen said she remembered telling Jackson and another employee about a restaurant she went to with an exclusively African-American waitstaff that she wanted to emulate, but was worried about the potential reaction. Though Deen admitted to using the phrase “really southern plantation wedding” she denied having said the N word.
“I remember telling them about a restaurant that my husband and I had recently visited. And I’m wanting to think it was in Tennessee or North Carolina or somewhere, and it was so impressive,” Deen said. “The whole entire wait staff was middle-aged black men, and they had on beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie. I mean, it was really impressive. And I remember saying I would love to have servers like that, I said, but I would be afraid that somebody would misinterpret.”
Deen said “that restaurant represented a certain era in America.” When pressed by Billips, the plaintiff’s lawyer, Deen said she was referring to the period immediately surrounding the Civil War. She also said she knew people might “read something into it” if she used exclusively African-American servers at the wedding.
Though she denied having used the N word when discussing the wedding waitstaff, Deen admitted to Billips that she used the term in the past.