SAVANNAH, Georgia (AP) — Attorneys for Paula Deen said Tuesday that a former worker who claimed she was sexually harassed and subjected to a hostile work environment at a restaurant co-owned by Deen and her brother made false claims after the celebrity chef refused to pay her to keep quiet.
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A lawsuit filed Monday by Lisa Jackson “makes false allegations against Paula Deen and they will be proven false in court,” said a statement from the Oliver Maner law firm, representing Deen. The law firm said the suit was filed in a local court after the Southern cooking star refused to pay the woman to “address false claims.”
Attorneys for Jackson, a former general manager at the restaurant, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Jackson said in the lawsuit that her doctor encouraged her to quit her post at Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House in Savannah because she suffered from panic attacks and other stress. The restaurant is owned by Deen and her brother Bubba Hiers.
Jackson, who is white, was hired at the restaurant in February 2005 and within months was promoted to general manager.
Jackson said in the lawsuit that Hiers routinely made inappropriate sexual and racial remarks and that she heard both Hiers and Deen use racial slurs. The woman also said in the suit that she saw Hiers violently shake a black employee and that he fostered a workplace environment of intimidation.
Deen’s law firm said they had investigated Jackson’s claims and had unsuccessfully attempted to address them with her.
“She has made baseless, inflammatory allegations, threatening to go to the press and ruin Paula Deen’s reputation and the reputation of her businesses unless we paid her a large sum of money,” the firm’s statement said. “We refused to bow to that kind of pressure and refused to pay money to address false claims.”
Jackson’s lawsuit, filed in Chatham County Superior Court, seeks unspecified damages.
Hiers soon began targeting her with unwanted advances, the suit said, adding that he watched pornography in the small office the two shared. He also distributed pictures of two women having sex at an office meeting and complained about heavier staff members, the complaint said.
She said in the suit that Hiers also required black staff members at his restaurant to use the back entrance and banned them from using a customer restroom that white staffers were allowed to use.
Jackson said she routinely suffered from panic attacks that often began when Hiers came to work each morning. The situation came to a head in August 2010 when Jackson said Hiers grabbed her face during a dinner for vendors at the restaurant and declared “I love you,” then later screamed at her and spit in her face, according to the suit.
Jackson said she left her job days later after her doctor suggested quitting would improve her health.