Are you a legal professional? Visit our professional site

Paula Deen Cites Gay Marriage Ruling to Fend Off Lawsuit

Article Placeholder Image
By Aditi Mukherji, JD on July 02, 2013 3:28 PM

Celebrity chef Paula Deen is using the Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling as support for her defense in a racial discrimination lawsuit.

The suit was filed by a woman who claims she was subjected to a hostile work environment at Deen's restaurants, CNN reports. But because the woman is white, she therefore doesn't have the standing, or legal right, to claim racial discrimination, Deen's lawyer argues in a motion filed Monday.

So how is the Supreme Court's Prop 8 ruling being used as an ingredient in Deen's legal defense?

No Standing to Sue?

It all comes down to the issue of standing. To have standing in a federal court, a litigant has to present some actual harm or injury that the court can remedy.

The harm or injury needs to be something more than hurt feelings or general disagreements. You have to be a "real" victim who experienced real harm or injury from the challenged conduct.

Deen's motion, filed with the U.S. District Court in Savannah, Georgia, cited last week's Supreme Court decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the California Proposition 8 case.

In that case, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal because the private parties behind it did not have standing to defend the ballot measure barring gay and lesbian couples from state-sanctioned matrimony. The parties were not "tangibly harmed" by gay marriage, the Court explained.

From Hollingsworth to Deen

So how do we get from the Hollingsworth decision to Paula Deen?

Deen's attorney is trying to draw a parallel: that if Hollingsworth couldn't be harmed by gay marriage, a white person can't be harmed by alleged discrimination, such as by use of the "N" word.

The basic argument here is that plaintiff Lisa Jackson doesn't have standing because, regardless of whether discrimination took place, she couldn't have suffered a "personal and tangible harm" from it.

In their response to Deen's original motion to dismiss the suit, Jackson's lawyers cited 16 other cases to support their client's standing to sue for racial discrimination despite her race (though Jackson has also noted she has biracial nieces), reports The Huffington Post.

Jackson, however, told CNN her lawsuit isn't about the N-word. "It is to address Ms. Deen's patterns of disrespect and degradation of people that she deems to be inferior. I may be a white woman, but I could no longer tolerate her abuse of power," Jackson said.

Related Resources: