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Paula Deen's Alleged Racism Shines Light on Workplace Discrimination

June 23, 2013

There are many who argue that in 2013, racism in the workplace no longer exists.

Then a case like the Paula Deen scandal crops up and reminds us that, sadly, there are those who continue to hold on to beliefs that inevitably translate to discrimination on the job. waitermotionblur.jpg

Los Angeles Employment Attorney Vincent Howard of HOWARD LAW has followed the case, which began with one former employee at the Southern celebrity chef's restaurant in Savannah, GA. The plaintiff, a former manager at the restaurant Deen owned with her brother, sued saying she was subjected to a hostile workplace in which racial slurs were commonplace.

As part of the lawsuit, the Food Network personality had to submit to a deposition with the plaintiff's attorney. In the course of that deposition, Deen admitted to using a racial slur on at least one occasion years ago and confessed she had contemplated the idea of hosting an old southern wedding, complete with black men acting as servants.

The fallout for Deen has been swift, with the Food Network announcing it will not renew her contract when it is up in June and other sponsors moving to pull the plug.

Now, it appears additional workers and former workers are coming forward to report abuse and discriminatory practices while employed by Deen and her enterprise.

At least three employees - one current and two former - are alleging that not only were white workers routinely paid more than black workers, white workers were more quickly promoted. One of the workers, who has said he intends to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said that Deen's brother, co-owner of the Savannah restaurant, told him point blank, "You have no civil rights here."

The Rainbow/PUSH civil rights group, founded by the Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr., said that it has conducted its own investigation, which uncovered evidence of systematic racial harassment and discrimination. In one case, a family member of Deen's, who worked at the restaurant, often referred to a black cook as, "My little monkey." The agency further found evidence that the management at Deen's restaurant were instructed to higher white or light-skinned black to work directly with customers, and that darker-skinned black workers would need to work in the back.

A Rainbow/PUSH spokesman said employees had been reluctant to speak out, for fear of retaliation, but they did so anyway because they wanted to right a long, ongoing injustice. The spokesman went on to say that while it doesn't begrudge Deen or her family members the right to think, feel and say what they wish, the greater concern is whether a reflection of this discriminatory mindset filtered into decisions related to employment.

Still, Paula Deen has her fair share of supporters, with a Facebook page called, 'We Support Paula Deen' boasting nearly 130,000 likes.

Per the EEOC, it is illegal for employers to harass or discriminate against a person because of his or her skin color. Racial harassment might include:

  • The use of racial slurs or offensive/derogatory remarks about a person's color or race.
  • The display of racially-offensive symbols.

The law doesn't bar offhand comments, isolated incidents or simple teasing. However, it becomes illegal when it is either so severe or frequent that it creates an offensive or hostile working environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision against the victim.

Los Angeles Employment Attorney VINCENT HOWARD at HOWARD LAW can help. Call toll-free at 1-800-872-5925 or send us a message online. Additional Resources: Paula Deen Scandal Continues As Employees Tell Rainbow/PUSH Coalition Of Alleged Discrimination, June 24, 2013, By Fran Jeffries and Wayne Washington, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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