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Paula Deen may have scored a legal victory when a federal judge in Georgia threw out race discrimination claims against her on Monday, but advertising executive Donny Deutsch believes that won’t help save her crumbling culinary empire.
“Doesn’t help her at all, unfortunately for her, because corporations will know the truth,’’ Deutsch said on TODAY Tuesday. “The reality is, it didn’t come out and say she didn’t say these things, it didn’t come out and say she wasn’t planning a plantation-themed party, so the horrific racial things that she did still stand.
“Unfortunately for her, corporations will never be able to stand next to her because even if five years go by, and they say, ‘Paula, we know you’re a good person, and you made a stupid mistake,’ and they say, ‘We’re going to line up with you,’ then they get thousands of letters from consumers (saying) ‘I’m not shopping in your store anymore.’’’
Lisa Jackson, a former manager at Deen’s restaurant in Savannah, Ga., sued Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers, last year, claiming she was subjected to sexual harassment and racist attitudes in the five years she worked in the establishment. U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore Jr. ruled that Jackson, who is white, had no standing to sue for race discrimination because she was not one of the victims of it.
Deen was dropped by the Food Network, Wal-Mart, Target, Sears and other retailers and publishers after admitting in a deposition from Jackson’s lawsuit that she had used racial slurs in the past. If Deen had chosen to settle the lawsuit out of court, her deposition would never have occurred — or have been made public.
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"When you’re a corporation, you always settle,’’ Deutsch said.
“(The ruling) does not exonerate (Deen) in the least bit,’’ legal analyst Star Jones said. “It simply says that the person who’s bringing one portion of the lawsuit was not in a position to bring that portion. (Deen) still has the lawsuit for sexual harassment and abuse that is pending right now.”
Deen’s lawyer had no comment on the ruling, but Deen released a statement through her spokesperson. The celebrity chef and her brother are asking to have the rest of the lawsuit alleging sexual harassment dismissed as well, but the judge has reserved the right to make that ruling at a later date.
"We are pleased with the court's ruling today that Lisa Jackson's claims of race discrimination have been dismissed," Deen's spokeperson Elana Weiss Rose told TODAY. "As Ms. Deen has stated before, she is confident that those who truly know how she lives her life know that she believes in equal opportunity, kindness and fairness for everyone."
The ruling has not changed anything as far as at least one retailer who dropped her is concerned.
"After careful consideration of all available information, we have made the decision to phase out all products tied to the brand,'' Sears said in a statement to NBC News. "We will continue to evaluate the situation. Our members' needs will be given first priority as we work to continue to provide quality cookware in our stores and online."
Deen now faces the challenge of rebuilding her brand.
“I’ll kind of quote Maya Angelou — they’ll forget what you said, they’ll forget you did, but they’ll never forget how it made you feel,’’ said Jones. “That’s exactly what Paula Deen is dealing with right now. It makes you feel like less than a person.”