Rainbow/Push releases results of Paula Deen Investigation - WRBL

Rainbow/Push releases results of Paula Deen Investigation

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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

Prepared by:

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

 High pay

 Staff continuity

 Career advancement

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

no rights.

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

higher pay.

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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