bureaucracybusters

LIFE LESSONS FROM PAULA DEEN: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Social commentary on June 26, 2013 at 12:01 am

The purpose of this website is to highlight the ways public and private bureaucracies actually operate–as opposed to how they usually want others to believe they operate.

Occasionally, a case comes along that is so filled with blatant violations of law and common sense that it offers a road map of what others should do to avoid similar disaster.

Such a case is that of celebrity chef Paula Deen.

Paula Deen

Let’s start at the beginning.

Deen, her brother Earl “Bubba” Hiers, her company, and the corporations that operate a pair of restaurants she owns in Savannah, Georgia, are being sued by former employee Lisa Jackson.

A complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia in November, 2012, claimed that she was subjected to “violent, sexist, and racist behavior” during her five years’ employment by Deen.

Jackson’s complaint describes her as a “white female” who has biracial nieces.

It was for that reason that she left Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House, which was run by Hiers, in August, 2010.

Jackson’s complaint alleges the following:

  • Black employees were required to use separate bathrooms and entrances from whites.
  • Black employees were held to “different, more stringent standards” than whites.
  • Hiers regularly made offensive racial remarks.
  • Hiers made inappropriate sexual comments.
  • Hiers forced Jackson to look at pornography with him.
  • Hiers often violently shook employees.
  • Hiers came to work in “an almost constant state of intoxication.”
  • Dean enabled Hiers’ behavior by ignoring Jackson’s efforts to discuss his behavior.
  • Deen “holds racist views herself.”

The allegation that black employees were ordered to use separate bathrooms and entrances harkens back to the ugly days of the pre-civil rights South.  That was an era where most blacks knew their place–or were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan.

In May, 2013, Deen gave her own deposition in the case.  She denied many of the allegations against Hiers-–but ended up admitting that she was aware of his offensive behaviors:

Q.  Okay.  Are you aware–-you were here during your brother’s deposition, right?

A.  Yes.

Q.  So you are aware of the things that he’s admitted to?

A.  Absolutely.

Q.  Did any of the things that your brother admitted to doing, including reviewing–-reviewing pornography in the workplace, using the N word in the workplace, did any of that conduct cause you to have any concerns about him continuing to operate the business?

A.  No.  My brother and I, 25 years ago…each started a business and we each had $200 to start that business.  My brother built the most successful long-service business in Albany, Georgia, with his $200.  My brother is completely capable unless he’s being sabotaged.

Stupid Mistake #1:  Deen acknowledged that, if she hadn’t known about her brother’s behavior prior to his deposition, she was present during this and thus learned about it then.

Stupid Mistake #2:  Deen acknowledged that even after she officially became aware of his behavior, she did not feel there was any reason to sever him from the company.

Getting back to Deen’s deposition:

Q.  Now, does his sense of humor include telling jokes about matters of a sexual nature?

A.  We have all told off-colored jokes.

Q.  Okay.  Does his sense of humor include telling jokes of a racial nature?

A.  I’m sure those kind of jokes have been told.  Every man I’ve ever come in contact with has one.

Stupid Mistake #3:  Deen acknowledged that off-color jokes were told in her workplace, and that she was clearly aware of it.

Stupid Mistake #4:  Deen made light of the telling of jokes that the vast majority of employers would not tolerate in their workplaces.

Then came–for Deen–the most deadly part of the deposition:

Q.  Okay.  Miss Deen, have you told racial jokes?

A.  No, not racial.

Q.  Okay, have you ever used the N word yourself?

A.  Yes, of course.

Stupid Mistake #5:  She knew that the charge of racial discrimination stood at the very heart of the lawsuit facing her.  Yet, when asked if she had ever used the N-word, she replied, “Yes, of course,” as if this were the most natural thing in the world.

Q.  Okay.  In what context?

A.  Well, it was probably when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head.

Q. Okay, and what did you say?

A.  Well, I don’t remember, but the gun was dancing all around my temple.  I didn’t…feel real favorable towards him.

Q.  Okay.  Well, did you use the N word to him as he pointed a gun in your head at your face?

A.  Absolutely not.

Q.  Well, then, when did you use it?

A.  Probably in telling my husband.

Stupid Mistake #6:  What is discussed between husband and wife is protected legally as marital privilege.  Her attorney should have objected and told her not to answer the question.  If she had not admitted to using it privately with her husband, she might not have been asked if she had used it since then.

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