In a weekend news conference in Savannah, Georgia, the Regional office of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition announced the findings of its investigation into Paula Deen Enterprises.
Rainbow/PUSH says the coalition was contacted by employees of Paula Deen Enterprises and asked to look into the workplace practices.
Below are the findings: Some of the language may be offensive.
Rainbow/PUSH Coalition Preliminary Report and Recommendations on
Racial Discrimination at Paula Deen Enterprises, LLC
June 17th – June 29th
Attorney Janice Mathis and Attorney Robert Patillo
On or about June 17th 2013 the Southeast Regional office of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition was
contacted by current and former employees of Paula Deen Enterprises, LLC to investigate
allegations of employment discrimination in wages, benefits, promotions and a perceived hostile
work environment based upon race and gender.
On behalf of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, Attorney Robert Patillo traveled to Savannah, GA to
investigate the complaints of discrimination. After a two week investigation, during which
Patillo spoke to more than a dozen employees of Paula Deen Enterprises, LLC, the
Rainbow/PUSH Coalition releases the following report and recommendation.
More than half of employees surveyed reported their experience to be Good, Great or
Exceptional. Primary factors contributing to employee's positive responses include:
A family environment
Employees stated that they appreciated Mrs. Deen's commitment to hiring employees who
otherwise had difficulty finding employment due to criminal history, previous disciplinary issues
or lack of experience. Mrs. Deen's restaurants appear to have an open door policy by which
employees who have been fired are easily rehired. Additionally, Mrs. Deen receives high marks
for the hiring of African Americans to work in her establishments. According to the statement of
an employee of "Uncle Bubba's Oyster House" there are only "a couple" of non-black
employees who work in the kitchen. Also, Mrs. Deen's personal assistant and driver, Hollis
Johnson, is African American.
Further, Mrs. Deen receives high marks within the community for her contributions to local
charities and non-profits which work with religious organizations and with underprivileged
youth. Additionally, Mrs. Deen is active in the local community contributing to many churches
and groups for the good of the community. This fact has prompted Pastor Gregory A. Tyson, Sr.
from First Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church in SAVANNAH, GA to affirm his belief that
Mrs. Deen "cannot be racist."
Some employees have stated that at no time during their employment had they heard any racial
slurs, experienced any type of discrimination nor felt the presence of a hostile work environment
while working for Deen Enterprises LLC. One Employee exclaimed that working for Mrs.
Deen was "Just fabulous, absolutely fabulous " , while another stated that his employment was
"the best job I have ever had.". There was general agreement that Deen Enterprises pays
higher than average wages for restaurants in the area.
Several employees expressed negative experiences working for Deen. An employee (who will be
referred to as Employee "A") stated that she worked for Deen for over 20 years without a pay
raise or promotion and that even today she makes far less than white employees with less than
half of her experience. Further, Employee A has stated that prior to 2011 there was no 401K plan
for employees and that the 17,000 in her plan now was contributed primarily from her own
earnings. Additionally, Employee A states that her pay was so low that she was nearly evicted
from her trailer home and had the "borrow" money from Mrs. Deen to keep her home. This
employee trained numerous kitchen staff over two decades but did not receive a significant pay
increase or promotion until 2011. She indicates that Mrs. Deen promised her that if she stayed
with the company "if I get rich you will too." At one point when employee A told Mrs. Deen that
she did not make enough to pay for her medication Deen threw a hundred dollar bill at her.
Employee B states that she has been passed over for several promotions in favor of white males
employees with less experience and less ability than her. She points out that on one specific
occasion a white male was hired "off of the street" with no experience to be her manager
whom she had to train. Employee also states that she witnessed an incident during which
"Uncle Bubba" shook a black employee and stated "Act like a man" and "You ain't got
Employee C states that she was forced to quit after a white male employee told her to "suck my
sweaty white balls" during a disagreement at work. Employee C reported this incident to
management but states that she quit when no immediate action was taken to discipline the
employee. He was fired after four days. no actions were taken for several days after the incident.
Employee also stated that white and male employees were promoted at a faster rate and received
Employee D states that the same white employee threw called him N***er several times during
an argument at work and received only a one day suspension. Further, he states that "Uncle
Bubba" often appeared to be "drunk" at work and often used racial slurs referring to black
employees as "You People."
Employee E stated that darker skinned employees were often forced to "stay in the back"
when large groups of white patrons were in the restaurant and were replaced by white bussers
and servers. Also stated that during the 2007 Savannah State Homecoming many African
American Patrons were in Uncle Bubba's dining and taking pictures. Uncle Bubba pulled the
Sandra General Manager into the office and told her "Please handle them. These niggers are
driving me crazy!"
Employee F stated that while working for Mrs. Deen as a teenager he suffered a severe laceration
to his arm. The management at the restaurant forced him to take a city bus to the hospital and
did not pay his medical bills. He further stated that his mother was electrocuted while working
for Mrs. Deen and the company failed to pay her medical expenses. Employee additionally
states that during his time working with Mrs. Deen black employees used an "Employee
Bathroom" in the back of the restaurant which was not air conditioned and described as
unsanitary while white employees were allowed to use the patrons' bathroom in the front of the
restaurant which was well maintained.
All employees stated that they had never had a black general manager nor seen a black employee
within upper management at any store location. Several employees agreed that some work
assignments appear to be based on skin color, rather than expertise. No black employees were
given ultimate hiring and firing authority regardless of seniority or experience. Further,
employees state that Deen's restaurants did not hire an outside Human Resources officer until
after incidents of crude behavior surfaced in 2011.
There is limited evidence of direct racism or racial discrimination on the part of Mrs. Paula
Deen. However, it does appear that Mrs. Deen has failed to fully and adequately address the
issue of endemic and systematic racial disparity and discrimination within her company. More
statistical evidence will reveal the extent to which systemic problems exist. Many female and
male employees complain of the lack of promotion opportunities for female employees.
Further, the company has failed to establish an adequate apparatus for the addressing of actual or
perceived sexual or racial harassment resulting in a culture of fear and intimidation, leading
employees to fear that any complaint will result in retaliation - the loss of their job and/or
employment benefits. Many employees stated during interviews that they feared retribution by
Paula Deen Enterprises, Inc. There is a marked lack of professionalism in the organization and
administration of the HR function that has contributed to the current issues and perceptions.
In order to remedy these employment issues and begin the improvement process, we suggest the
following steps be taken:
1. Scholarship fund for employees who want to study business, hospitality or culinary arts
2. Increase the number of black restaurant managers
3. Complete the Rainbow PUSH diversity and inclusion survey
4. Settlement fund for current and former employees aggrieved by policies to be arbitrated
by neutral party after hearing claims
5. Thorough re-engineering of HR policies and procedures
6. Establish a revolving loan fund for black restaurant business expansion
7. Ongoing diversity training for all managers and staff
8. External diversity advisory committee
9. Internal diversity consultant
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