Looking at photographs of Paula Deen before the tempest that blew up from the discrimination lawsuit responsible for ruining her career and toppling her food empire, her eyes sparkle and gleam with the confidence befitting a food empress. Pictures of Deen now tell a different story. Her eyes, like her recent victory in court look hollow, haunted and not a little desperate.
When the racist storm gathered on the horizon after her sworn deposition that she had used the “N” word her partners, both in the television media world and the food world, could not distance themselves quick enough. The 66 year-old southern belle celebrity cook was left high and dry on a sinking ship of prejudice and false claims of racist practises that included her alleged plans to have brother Bubba’s wedding catered by, “little n*****s to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties, you know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around.”
The reality of Paula Deen was soon lost in all the hysteria caused by the accusations of a white employee who made allegations of not just racism, but sexism as well. Misogynistic practises, according to the woman responsible for the lawsuit, were rampant in Deen’s restaurants. This woman, Lisa Jackson, had actually approached Deen before the lawsuit asking for a settlement of $1.25 million.
Jackson, quite rightly as it turned out, opined that her settlement figure would be much cheaper for Deen to pay up front rather than lose much more by allowing Jackson to proceed through more legal channels. Paula followed her, then, legal team’s advice and allowed the whole thing to go public.
Paula Deen’s legal victory over her avaricious ex-employee has been a hollow one. She has lost much more than the original extortion fee requested by Jackson, who shrewdly forecast that Deen’s supporters in the business world would scarper as soon as the race card was played.
Overall, legally at least, the Gods have smiled on the Antebellum loving television cook. First a judge ruled that a white employee could not claim racism, even if he or she claimed that they were offended by said actions. The first sigh of relief for the beleaguered Deen.
Then the latest news that the sexual harassment and abusive treatment portion of the lawsuit have also been dismissed. While it has not been confirmed, it appears that some sort of settlement was agreed upon by both camps. As with most cases that end of some sort of financial recompense, we will probably never learn of the amount rendered.
But in terms of image and partnerships, Deen has lost much more than the original figure asked for by Jackson’s lawyer. Deen has emerged triumphant, but only marginally. Her sworn deposition that she had actually used the racially inflammatory term for black people has irrevocably tarnished her charming southern belle persona that endeared her to so many.
The rollcall of those businesses that unceremoniously dumped Ms Deen is a diverse one. The Food Network being the first to distance itself, soon followed by WalMart and then Target. These three alone cost the culinary empress millions in revenue.
Paula Deen may be smiling more for the camera, but looking at her eyes they hold a look of desperation. She knows that hers was a hollow victory; one that, at the age of 66, she may never recover from. There can be very few victories that have cost so much in terms of lost image and financial ruin. Like the south that she so epitomises, Paula Deen may never rise again.
By Michael Smith