The Corner

Paula Deen Race Case Thrown Out

Well, well, well — who would have thought that applying the principle of presumed innocence to people who are being pilloried in the press could be worthwhile? CBS reports:

A federal judge in Georgia has thrown out race discrimination claims by a former Savannah restaurant manager whose lawsuit against Paula Deen ended up causing the celebrity cook to lose a big slice of her culinary empire.

Lisa Jackson sued Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers, last year saying she was subjected to sexual harassment and racist attitudes during the five years she worked at their restaurant, Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House. But U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore Jr. ruled Monday that Jackson, who is white, has no standing to sue them for race discrimination.

Back in June, I wrote the following:

If the accusations that pushed Paula Deen into court in the first place are true, she deserves to be fired and excluded from polite society. Among other things, Deen is accused of paying blacks less than whites; her brother is accused of telling one worker “you don’t have any civil rights here”; and another family member, it is claimed, repeatedly called an employee “my little monkey.” But these are allegations and nothing more — accusations from a woman who not only cannot seem to keep her testimony straight but who started out by sending an “inflammatory letter seeking over a million dollars” and promising “Deen ‘a chance to salvage a brand that can continue to have value.’” Deen strenuously denies the claims. It should go without saying that until such time as she is convicted, she is innocent. In the meantime, is it wise for us to pull her and her brand down because of something she may or may not have said privately in the 1980s? In the meantime, is it wise for us to pull her and her brand down because of something she may or may not have said privately in the 1980s?

And pull down her brand the media has. As Mark Steyn likes to point out, because nowadays the process is often the punishment we must remain extremely careful not to take the word of accusers at face value and then act on them as if they were Gospel truth. We have not been extremely careful.

None of this is to say that Paula Deen isn’t guilty, of course. Note that the judge did not rule that the accusations were untrue, only that the plaintiff had no standing to bring the case herself. As Fox News explains:

. . . the claims of race discrimination by Jackson, who is white, were gutted in the 20-page opinion by U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore Jr. The judge agreed with lawyers for Deen and Hiers that Jackson has no standing to sue her former employers for what she claims was poor treatment of black workers, regardless of her claims that she was offended and placed under additional stress.

Jackson, at best, “is an accidental victim of the alleged racial discrimination,” Moore said in his ruling. “There are no allegations that defendant Hiers’s racially offensive comments were either directed toward plaintiff or made with the intent to harass her.”

The ruling lets stand Jackson’s claims that Hiers sexually harassed her when she worked at the restaurant from 2005 to 2010. However, the judge said he was reserving the chance to rule on requests from Deen’s lawyers to dismiss other claims in the lawsuit.

The judge added that to allow Jackson to seek legal recourse for discrimination directed toward other workers “would serve to conscript federal courts as human resource departments that are responsible for imposing and monitoring a federally created standard for harmony in the workplace.”

Nevertheless, there is an extremely important principle here: Paula Deen has suffered immensely because someone who did not even have standing to bring a case, who was singularly incapable of keeping her testimony straight, and who started out by requesting one million dollars in exchange for leaving Deen alone brought a series of unproven allegations in a case that has now been dismissed. Civilized societies should recognize that this could happen to anybody and that what ultimately separates us from barbarians is the weighting of our systems toward the defendants and not the accusers and the willingness to wait for a conviction before meting out punishment. Unless something magically turns up in the still-in-tact sexual harrassment case, America may well have destroyed the reputation and career of a woman who is guilty of little more than admitting to saying a bad word on one occasion three decades ago. For shame.

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