Paula Deen lawsuit appears to be over; settlement a possibility
(CNN) — Celebrity chef Paula Deen, who lost endorsements and a national cooking show after she admitted using a racial slur in the past, on Friday welcomed the resolution of a lawsuit by a former employee who leveled accusations of racism and sexual harassment.
The federal lawsuit will be dismissed by agreement, according to a court filing. It was not immediately clear whether there was a settlement, but a description on a federal court website labeled the filing as a “settlement agreement.”
A federal judge in Georgia had not signed off on the agreement, according to the filing.
The proceedings will be dismissed “with prejudice,” meaning the lawsuit cannot be filed again. The parties agreed the dismissal would be “without any award of costs or fees to any party,” according to the posting.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr. in Savannah dismissed a portion of the lawsuit that contended former employee Lisa Jackson was a victim of racial discrimination.
Deen released a statement Friday, said she believes “in kindness and fairness for everyone.”
“While this has been a difficult time for both my family and myself, I am pleased that the judge dismissed the race claims and I am looking forward to getting this behind me, now that the remaining claims have been resolved.”
Deen’s career and public reputation went into a tailspin earlier this summer after her deposition in the lawsuit, in which she admitted using the “N word” in the past, was released.
Jackson alleged that Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers, committed numerous acts of violence, discrimination and racism that resulted in the end of her five years of employment at The Lady and Sons, and Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House — two Savannah, Georgia, restaurants run by Deen and her family.
But Jackson could not claim to be a victim of racial discrimination targeting African-American workers because she is white, Moore ruled in early August.
Other aspects of the lawsuit, including sexual harassment and abusive treatment, were still pending until Friday’s agreed order of dismissal.
CNN was unable to immediately reach lawyers for Jackson.
Savannah is where Deen built her business and brand into what many consider the folksy face of Southern cooking.
In the media firestorm that followed news of the deposition, Deen lost lucrative endorsements and her Food Network cooking show, while the publication of her eagerly anticipated cookbook was canceled.
In her statement, Deen thanked Jackson for five years of service at Uncle Bubba’s.
“Moving forward my team and I are working to review the workplace environment issues that were raised in this matter and to retool all of my businesses operations,” Deen said. “I look forward to getting back to doing what I love.”
Jackson’s complaint alleged that a “racially biased attitude prevailed throughout and pervaded defendants’ restaurant operations,” and that African-American staff could use the restaurant’s rear entrance only.
But the judge ruled there was no evidence racially offensive comments allegedly made by Hiers were directed toward Jackson or made with the intent to harass her.
The complaint said the company was a “boy’s club” with men in management positions, “and women are not invited to take on substantial decision-making roles.”
Jackson contended that Hiers subjected her to sexual harassment on “an almost daily basis.”
In June, Deen’s sons staunchly defended their mother, saying allegations of racism were false “character assassination.”
“Neither one of our parents ever taught us to be bigoted toward any other person for any reason,” Bobby Deen told CNN’s “New Day” in an exclusive interview with Chris Cuomo.
“Our mother is one of the most compassionate, good-hearted, empathetic people that you’d ever meet,” he added. “These accusations are very hurtful to her, and it’s very sad.”
A deposition confession
At a May deposition in the Jackson lawsuit, Deen admitted having used the “N word” long ago.
Jackson lawyer: “Miss Deen, have you told racial jokes?”
Deen: “No, not racial.”
Jackson lawyer: “Have you ever used the ‘N word’ yourself?”
Deen: “Yes, of course.”
Deen testified that she 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.”
“I didn’t feel real favorable towards him,” she said, referring to the robber.
Jackson lawyer: “Have you used it since then?”
Deen: “I’m sure I have, but it’s been a very long time.”
Deen said she couldn’t remember other contexts in which she used the slur, but “maybe in repeating something that was said to me.”
“But that’s just not a word that we use as time has gone on,” she said. “Things have changed since the ’60s in the South. And my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior.”
Deen apologized for her language in two videos produced in June.
“I want to learn and grow from this,” she said in one video. “Inappropriate and hurtful language is totally, totally unacceptable. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way but I beg you, my children, my team, my fans, my partners — I beg for your forgiveness.”
By Phil Gast
CNN’s Cristy Lenz, Alan Duke and InSession’s Jessica Thill contributed to this report.