By now you have probably already heard that another celebrity is
in the news as a result of harassment allegations. In Savannah,
Georgia, Paula Deen, her brother "Bubba," and their
restaurant Uncle Bubba's Oyster House have been sued for racism
and sexual harassment. According to a complaint filed in Chatham
County by former employee Lisa Jackson, "Bubba" Hiers
engaged in violent behavior including sexual harassment directed at
Ms. Jackson had been promoted to general manager at the
restaurant by Paula Deen after a previous general manager, who was
male, was fired for having inappropriate relationships with
subordinate employees, according to the complaint. At the time, Ms.
Deen allegedly made a pointed comment about the fact that she did
not intend to lose all she had worked for just because of the
former general manager's illicit pursuits.
Ms. Deen also made comments about the reasons why she thought a
female should be placed in the position as general manager, the
suit claims. The complaint further alleges that managers and others
used anti-Semitic, sexist, and racist language, and that females
were paid less than males for similar work.
Let's Not Make A Federal Case Out Of This
Ms. Jackson's attorney reportedly made many attempts to
secure a settlement, asking for as much as $12 million from Ms.
Deen. When his attempts to secure an acceptable settlement failed,
he filed the lawsuit in Georgia Superior Court in Chatham
Rather than bringing claims under federal anti-discrimination
laws, the complaint includes counts apparently brought under
Georgia law for sexual harassment, emotional distress, assault,
battery and other claims, along with a request for attorneys'
fees under a Georgia law that allows for fees when it is shown that
the defendant has acted in bad faith or has caused the plaintiff
unnecessary trouble or expense.
The specific allegations, which have been labeled as being
"explosive," are detailed and vulgar. Events and comments
allegedly occurring during the past five or more years are included
to portray a pattern of bad behavior over an extended period of
time by the restaurant owners and management. Ms. Jackson alleges
that there was no human resources department to address her
concerns, and that management did not appropriately respond to her
many complaints about inappropriate behavior.
A Response, And An Answer
According to her attorneys, Paula Deen says the claims are
false, and that they were filed after she refused to pay Ms.
Jackson to "address false claims" and "keep her
quiet." Calling the allegations baseless and inflammatory, and
arguing that Jackson and her attorney just want to attack Deen
because she would not pay the $1.25 million they demanded,
Deen's attorneys sought a gag order to restrict pre-trial
comments about the allegations and attempt to minimize the adverse
publicity. The Judge denied the request for a gag order. However,
days later, following a closed-door meeting with the Judge, Ms.
Jackson's attorney said he would no longer provide information
about the case to the media.
Deen's lawyers filed an answer to the complaint in court
only one day after the complaint was filed. The answer denied the
allegations and asserted that because Ms. Jackson did not file a
Charge with the EEOC regarding the alleged sexual harassment those
claims should be dismissed. The answer also asked that all events
allegedly occurring two or more years before the filing of the
complaint be stricken.
So What's The Point?
This case illustrates once again how things can get ugly very
fast when an unhappy former employee raises allegations and files a
lawsuit. Lawsuits often contain spurious and scandalous details,
essentially whatever the plaintiff and her attorney choose to
allege and claim to be true. Because lawsuits filed are immediately
available to the public, those details spread like wildfire through
the media, especially when a prominent celebrity or company name is
the target of the lawsuit.
We do not know, and may never know, the truth about all of the
details regarding Ms. Jackson's allegations in this case.
Clearly Ms. Deen vehemently denies Ms. Jackson's allegations.
No doubt the others involved have varying recollections and
accounts of the events and circumstances involved.
But this case does serve as a reminder that all such allegations
made by a current or former employee should be taken seriously. All
organizations should have policies and practices in place to timely
investigate and document the facts and circumstances when
allegations of harassment or inappropriate conduct are raised.
Then, if claims are made years later, there is specific
documentation and detail to deter an individual who may wish to
falsely portray things to gain leverage over the organization and
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A female employee traveling for her employer met a "friend" and at her motel room with him became "injured whilst engaging in sexual intercourse when a glass light fitting above the bed was pulled from its mount and fell on her."