The purpose of this blog 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.
On April 3, Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House closed without warning.
The Savannah, Georgia, restaurant lay at the center of the infamous Paula Deen lawsuit.
And, in keeping with the mistreatment she had long tolerated against her employees, Deen closed Uncle Bubba’s without a trace of class.
Yes, Paula Deen thought so little of her employees that she didn’t even tell them beforehand. She let them show up to work, only to find kitchen appliances being removed from the restaurant.
Employees collected their severance checks in the parking lot.
Insead, the restaurant posted the following announcement on its Facebook page:
“Since its opening in 2004, Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House has been a destination for residents and tourists in Savannah, offering the region’s freshest seafood and oysters.
“However, the restaurant’s owner and operator, Bubba Heirs, has made the decision to close the restaurant in order to explore development options for the waterfront property on which the restaurant is located.
“At this point, no specific plans have been announced and a range of uses are under consideration in order realize the highest and best use for the property.
“The closing is effective today, Thursday, April 3, 2014. Employees will be provided with severance based on position and tenure with the restaurant.
“All effort will be made to find employees comparable employment with other Savannah restaurant organizations.”
In 2013, Deen became the subject of nationwide controversey when Lisa Jackson, a former employee of Uncle Bubba’s, filed a sexual/racial harassment lawsuit against her.
In a deposition, Deen was asked if she had used the word “nigger” and she replied: “Of course.”
Suddenly, she lost her cooking show on the Food Network. Several of his business partners–including Sears, JC Penney and Kmart–also gave hr the heave-ho.
The lawsuit was eventually dismissed, but, by then, the damage was done.
Commentators focused obsessively on Deen’s admission that she used the word “nigger.” Entirely ignored was the longtime mistreatment she had allowed to be dished out to her employees.
Deen, her brother Earl “Bubba” Hiers, her company, and the corporations that operated a pair of restaurants she owns in Savannah, Georgia, were 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 Jackson was subjected to “violent, sexist, and racist behavior” during her five years’ employment by Deen.
It was for that reason that she left Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House, which was run by Hiers, in August, 2010.
Jackson’s complaint alleged that:
- 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?
Q. So you are aware of the things that he’s admitted to?
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.
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.
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.