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Paula Deen Lawsuit: Racial Discrimination Claims Thrown Out

By Betty Wang, JD on August 13, 2013 11:57 AM

The latest update in the Paula Deen lawsuit: claims of racial discrimination didn't survive the chopping block.

A federal judge in Georgia has ruled that plaintiff Lisa Jackson, who is white, has no standing to sue Deen's restaurant for race discrimination. Jackson was a former restaurant manager at one of Deen and her brother's restaurants, Uncle Bubba's Seafood and Oyster House.

What exactly does this ruling mean for Jackson's lawsuit against Deen?

No Standing to Sue

The ruling means that Jackson's claims of sexual harassment can potentially move forward in her Paula Deen lawsuit. But Jackson's claims regarding racial discrimination will not, because she lacks standing to pursue those claims.

Standing is a doctrine derived from Article III of the Constitution. In general, a plaintiff must be able to show that she was harmed or that harm is imminent, and that a lawsuit can possibly remedy that harm.

Standing is meant to ensure fairness and justice in a case. For example, if someone is sexually harassed, the victim's friend cannot sue on her behalf because the friend has not actually been harassed. The friend, therefore, has no standing.

In this case, the judge ruled that Jackson herself has no standing because she is white and alleging racial discrimination. He has likely determined that, from the facts of the case and the evidence brought forward, she has not personally been harmed by the alleged racial slurs that were allegedly being tossed around at the restaurant.

This simply means that Jackson has not met the standing requirement. It is not a direct indicator of whether or not Deen herself has actually racially discriminated her employees.

Remaining Claims

Jackson is also alleging that Bubba Hiers, Deen's brother and owner of the restaurant, had made inappropriate sexual remarks over the course of her time working there and as a result, created a hostile working environment.

Sexual harassment, in general, is defined as harassment that occurs through the presence of demeaning or sexual jokes, threats, photographs, and other forms. The inappropriate behavior (or conduct) must be so offensive and pervasive that it creates an unsafe or intimidating work environment.

The federal judge has said that he will decide later whether the sexual harassment part of the lawsuit can proceed.

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