Lawsuit not about N-word, Paula Deen’s accuser says
(CNN) — Celebrity chef Paula Deen hopes the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing same-sex marriage to be legal in California will help in her defense against a racial discrimination lawsuit.
The woman alleging that she was subjected to a hostile work environment while working as an assistant manager at Deen’s restaurants is white and therefore doesn’t have the “standing,” or legal right, to claim racial discrimination, according to a motion filed Monday by Deen’s lawyer.
The high court rejected an appeal of California’s Proposition 8 law last week on the grounds that the private parties behind the appeal did not have standing to defend the ballot measure barring gay and lesbian couples from state-sanctioned wedlock.
Even if the federal judge in Savannah, Georgia, accepts the argument and tosses the lawsuit, much damage has already been done to Deen’s career and businesses by the public fallout from a deposition in which she acknowledged using the “N-word.”
Asked by the lawyer taking the deposition if she had ever used the word, she said, “Yes, of course.”
She said she had probably used the racial slur when talking to her husband about “when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head” — an incident that took place 30 years ago.
Asked if she had used it since then, she said, “I’m sure I have, but it’s been a very long time.” She noted that circumstances have changed “since the ’60s in the South.”
Many of Deen’s lucrative business relationships have crumbled in the wake of media coverage of the lawsuit. She has lost at least nine endorsements along with her Food Network cooking show, and publication of her eagerly anticipated cookbook has been canceled.
Deen attorney William Franklin’s motion, filed Monday with the U.S. District Court in Savannah, cited the June 26 Supreme Court decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the California case.
“Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts made this observation: Article III of the Constitution confines the judicial power of federal courts to deciding actual ‘Cases’ or ‘Controversies,'” the motion said. “One essential aspect of this requirement is that any person invoking the power of a federal court must demonstrate standing to do so. This requires the litigant to prove that he has suffered a concrete and particularized injury that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct, and is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.”
Lisa Jackson, the plaintiff in the suit against Deen is white, has no standing because she couldn’t have suffered “a personal and tangible harm” from hearing the “N-word” on the job, the Franklin’s , motion says.
In the Prop 8 case, state officials refused to pursue an appeal when a federal judge struck down the same-sex marriage ban. Private citizens picked it up, ultimately to be told by the high court last week that they had no standing to do so.
Jackson is a former manager at Deen’s restaurants in Savannah, Georgia. She is suing Deen and her brother, Bubba Hier, alleging they committed numerous acts of violence, discrimination and racism that resulted in the end of her five-year employment at Deen’s Lady & Sons and Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House eateries in Savannah.
She gave a statement to CNN’s Don Lemon through her lawyer, Matthew Billips, on Monday.
“This lawsuit has never been about the N-word,” she said. “It is to address Ms. Deen’s patterns of disrespect and degradation of people that she deems to be inferior. I may be a white woman, but I could no longer tolerate her abuse of power as a business owner, nor her condonation of Mr. Hier’s despicable behavior on a day-to-day basis. I am what I am, and I am a human being that cares about all races, and that is why I feel it is important to be the voice for those who are too afraid to use theirs.”
Deen’s lawyer has called the allegations false, and Deen has said she does not tolerate prejudice.
Deen made an emotional appearance on NBC’s “Today Show” last week in which she called the accusations “horrible, horrible lies.”
“I believe that every creature on this Earth, every one of God’s creatures, was created equal,” she said. “… I believe that everyone ought to be treated equal.”
Deen was raised to never be unkind to anyone, she said.
CNN’s Josh Levs, Caleb Silver and Melissa Gray contributed to this report.