Civil Procedure

Lawyer in Paula Deen case says white plaintiff had no standing to pursue race claims

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A rule 11 motion filed by a lawyer in the Paula Deen case raises standing issues that suggest the celebrity chef’s controversial deposition in which she admitted having used the N-word may have delved into a subject that should have been off limits.

The motion (PDF) by lawyer Tom Withers says the plaintiff pursuing race-based claims has no standing to assert them because she is white, the Savannah Morning News reports. The plaintiff, Lisa Jackson, had claimed she was sexually harassed and worked in a racially hostile environment at a restaurant owned by Deen and her brother in Savannah, Ga. Withers represents Deen’s brother and the restaurant.

According to the motion, Jackson claimed she was offended because her nieces “are bi-racial with an African-American father.” But the motion says there is just one niece, and she is related to Jackson’s partner, who said in a deposition that the niece’s father is Hispanic and she hasn’t seen the girl in years.

“Despite having knowledge of the falsity of their core race-based claims, plaintiff and her counsel have blindly insisted on pursuing those claims,” Withers wrote. “In this case, counsel has repeatedly trumpeted their race-based claims in virtually every pleading all the while knowing the infirmities of this case legally and factually.”

The motion was served on the plaintiff’s counsel on May 3, giving them 21 days to withdraw their amended complaint under Rule 11’s safe harbor rule, Withers says.

“Jackson cannot enforce someone else’s right, and she has no actionable claim for feeling ‘uncomfortable’ around discriminatory conduct directed at others,” Withers wrote. Jackson must show that any harassment was directed toward her because she was white, but at her deposition she alleged she was treated more favorably than African American employees at the restaurant, Withers said.

After controversy erupted over Deen’s deposition statements, the Food Network announced it was not renewing her contract.

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