Last year, during a videotaped interview with Celebrity Chef Paula Deen, Deen brought on stage her black bodyguard, Hollis Johnson, who she introduce as her “son by another father,” claiming “I would travel to hell with him, I know I can trust him with my life, and color ain’t got nothing to do with it.”
Deen looked and sounded very convincing. Of course, no one really knows what is in her heart of hearts. But I do know from my experience traveling with a road band in the Deep South of the 60s that white southerners possessed a strange dichotomy. On the one hand they would show a great deal of affection for blacks, especially those who were a part of their families, such as a nanny, but on the other hand tell you that they would kill those very same people if they attempted to achieve racial equality where their white children would be forced to go to school with their black children.
In the case of Deen, it’s not about what is in her heart of hearts. It’s not about her confessed use of the n-word some 30 years ago. It’s about the allegations in a civil anti-discrimination lawsuit against Paul Deen Enterprises that is most disturbing.
Of course, the lawsuit discloses only allegations. We do not know just what the fallout will be. But according to the testimony of plaintiff Lisa Jackson, former manager of Lady & Sons and Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House, Deen’s business partner brother Earl “Bubba” Heirs regularly showed pornography in offices and in the work environment, and that he was prone to making sexist comments.
Jackson alleges that Deen described her vision in the planning for her brother Earl’s wedding as one in which he would “experience a true southern wedding,” one with black waiters (allegedly using a racial epithet instead) wearing long-sleeve white shirts and black bow ties, “you know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around.”
Jackson alleges that at one time Lady & Sons General Manager Dustin Walls threatened to fire all of the “monkeys” (a reference to his black staff) in the kitchen.
There are allegations that black employees were to stay in the back of the house where customers would not see them.
Interviews of Deen and Heirs’ employees by Robert Patillo, an attorney for Rainbow/PUSH, seem to substantiate Jackson’s allegations, and they make other accusations as well.
For fifty years, I was a General Manager and worked in other management roles in restaurants and food services. The chefs in the operations of which I was responsible all held unique management positions. Each one of them possessed a blend of culinary, interpersonal, and management skills that made them unique. They were more than a just a good cook or someone who could work through a recipe, adjust them if they needed to, and plan menus. The chefs oversaw every aspect of daily operations in kitchens they managed. Beyond the cuisine, these chefs were planners and organizers, they scheduled, hired, and trained staff, but most important they controlled the kitchens they operated. That control included ensuring compliance with standards of best management practices, and that they were operating within the law, which includes civil rights laws and its protections against workplace harassment.
Paula Deen may have cooking and presentation skills but is not a chef by any stretch of the imagination. Even if the allegations turn out to be partially true, as a self-described chef of southern cooking and business owner she failed to uphold even the most appropriate management practices and apparently condoned a hostile work environment, racial discrimination, and disparate treatment of those who worked for her. If her business partner refused to comply with the law, Deen had a responsibility to remove herself from any association with the business.
If Paula Deen and/or”Bubba” Heirs held management positions in anyone of the operations I oversaw, and if I found out any part of these allegations were true, they would have been gone posthaste.