Harassment and Discrimination in the Workplace
Holy cr*p! Who lets these people out in civilized society? You can’t turn on the TV or fire up your computer without seeing the reports of what went on in the deposition that Ms. Deen gave in a sexual harassment and racial discrimination claim former general manager Lisa Jackson filed against Paula Deen, her brother Bubba Hiers, and their restaurants. But have you actually read the deposition? You simply must read it, here: Paula Deen Deposition. It will set your hair on fire!
While denying that any harassment or discrimination took place (or saying she couldn’t believe her brother would do such things), Ms. Deen made some incredible statements. I really can’t wait to see if this makes it to court. I think she’s toast.
So, let’s break this down, in terms of what should, or shouldn’t happen in the workplace:
Among the claims are that brother Bubba Hiers would download and view pornography at work, kissed and spit at Jackson’s face and asked her to bring photos of herself when she was young for him to look at.
He also is alleged to have made repeated comments about other female employees' sex life. After one female employee got dentures, Hiers allegedly said "I bet your husband is going to like that."
Bubba Hiers admitted to showing pornography at work in his deposition. He also admitted to using the N word, at work.
In her deposition, Deen stated that saying sexual things or making sexual jokes to employees or in front of other employees might be ok, depending on their "comfort zone". She also stated, "just because he’s got a sense of humor does not make him a bad person or incapable of running a business." Questioned as to whether jokes of a sexual or racist nature are in poor taste at a place of work, she responded, "We have all told off-color jokes … Every man I’ve ever come in contact with has one."
Racial Harassment and Discrimination
When asked if she thought jokes containing the N word would be hurtful, Deen said she was unsure. "That’s kind of hard. Most — most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks. Most jokes target — I don’t know. I didn’t make up the jokes, I don’t know," said Deen. "They usually target, though, a group. Gays or straights, black, redneck, you know, I just don’t know — I just don’t know what to say. I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person." (Emphasis added)
When asked by Jackson what the set up would be for her brother’s wedding in 2007 (which Jackson was handling), Deen allegedly answered: "Well what I would really like is a bunch of little n***ers to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties, you know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around… Now, that would be a true Southern wedding wouldn't it? But we can't do that because the media would be on me about that."
Deen denied this accusation. When asked during the deposition if she might have slipped and used the word, she said, "No, because that’s not what these men were. They were professional black men doing a fabulous job." But then, when asked why nicely dressed black men would be a part of a "Southern plantation wedding," she said it reminded her of southern America "before the Civil War, during the Civil War, after the Civil War." When reminded that black men serving white people during that time were slaves, she agreed, but said it wasn’t only black men, but "black women" and she "did not mean anything derogatory" by her comments.
Deen said that she and her husband taught her children not to use the N-word in a mean way. Asked when exactly that word might be used in a ‘not-mean’ way, she said either when repeating what you may hear "black people" say in the kitchen or when used in a joke.
Jackson complained she suffered from "violent behavior by Bubba Hiers, violent behavior that included sexual harassment as well as racial harassment, assault, battery and other humiliating conduct" on employees she managed. It was also alleged that black employees were treated more harshly and paid less than while employees.
According to the complaint, Deen and other managers at her companies ignored Jackson’s attempts to discuss Hiers’ behavior.
Interestingly enough, at some point before the harassment and discrimination charges were filed, Paula Deen Enterprises hired a management consultant firm, MackWorks, who came in and did an audit of management practices, it appears. They interviewed management and employees at both restaurants. According to the deposition, the results of that audit were given to Ms. Deen and it was recommended that her brother be removed from his position in the company. Ms. Deen states that she felt MackWorks was unduly influenced and biased by Ms. Jackson and another high level company employee. She further stated that she didn’t have confidence in the audit’s results. However, on MackWorks website under their "Success Stories" is a quote from Paula Deen:
"Tanya Mack and her team at MackWorks has worked closely with Paula Deen Enterprises for the past four months. They came to us with a sterling reputation that continues to shine. Within a few weeks, her team was able to quickly assess our areas of concern accurately, build a quick rapport, and design a prioritized plan. Tanya and her team quickly began and continue to effectively integrate a set of human resource processes and procedures. It is with great pleasure that I offer my full recommendation for Tanya Mack and MackWorks."
Apparently, she forgot about that quote during her deposition.
Most reasonably intelligent, aware people know what should have been done, but here’s the rundown:
Jokes, comments, photos, cartoons, etc., etc., etc. of a sexual nature should never be allowed in the workplace. Can you say hostile work environment? The same goes for such things of a racial or cultural nature that may be, and probably will be, derogatory in nature.
- Have a policy that explicitly prohibits this type of behavior. Spell it out; include both harassment and discrimination. Make sure it has teeth, and make sure there are multiple people to whom an employee can bring a complaint. Deen’s company didn’t even have an employee handbook, let alone a policy. And, the only people employees could report issues to were Deen and her brother (lovely!).
- Consistently enforce the policy; regardless of the person violating it. Include appropriate discipline for violating the policy; in many cases, if the complaint is found to be valid, termination of the violator may be the only acceptable action. Even one instance of violent physical contact, or one use of a particularly offensive word (i.e. the N word), should be grounds for immediate termination.
- Disseminate the policy, and provide training to employees and supervisors. Expect -- no, demand compliance.
- Always investigate when you receive a complaint. An outside investigator may make sense if you have no one internally who can properly conduct an investigation, and especially if the complaint is against a high ranking employee of the company.
- Deen’s comment about not knowing what may offend others is preposterous. If you own a business, and have employees, you damn well better know what may offend other people! Educate yourself. If you have a human resources function, listen to them. It’s what they’re trained for. If you don’t have a human resources function, consult an attorney to guide you through creating policies, procedures, training requirements and documentation (handbooks as well as disciplinary actions for violators).
Reading the deposition, it’s sadly clear that Paula Deen has no clue that what she and her brother did was wrong, both morally and legally. It appears she’s only now apologizing because she got caught and her business and livelihood are now at stake. Don’t be Paula Deen Enterprises.