More Paula Deen Headaches for Novo Nordisk – ‘N Word’ Alleged

More Paula Deen Headaches for Novo Nordisk – ‘N Word’ Alleged

March 7th, 2012 // 1:13 pm @

Source: Pharmalot

For the past month, the Novo Nordisk team may have thought the Paula Deen controversy was finally behind them. Their hope? That the public was on its way to forgetting her failure to acknowledge she has diabetes, even while cooking unhealty dishes on her Food Network show right up until the time she signed on as the Novo Nordisk spokeswoman earlier this year.

But no such luck. A lawsuit filed by a former Deen employee accuses her and her brother, Bubba, of racism and sexism. And the allegations are so sensational – the use of the ‘N’ word; derogatory remarks about African-Americans and Jews; sexual harassment and profanity in the workplace – that the drugmaker may find itself having to defend its decision to hire Deen all over again.

The lawsuit was filed by Lisa Jackson, who was general manager at Uncle Bubba’s Seafood House from 2005 through 2010, according to the lawsuit, which was first reported by Radar. Bubba Hiers is Deen’s brother and the lawsuit states that Deen had an ownership interest in the Georgia restaurant. Throughout her employment, Jackson charges Deen and Hiers were rude and crude.

For instance, Jackson claims she was told to handle catering for Bubba’s wedding in 2007, which Deen wanted “Southern Plantation style.” Asked Deen about server uniforms, Deen said: “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.”

Bubba also made numerous racist remarks, the lawsuit charges. In one example cited, he allegedly said “they should send President Obama to the oil spill in the Gulf (of Mexico) so he could n***er-rig it” in front of Jackson, a restaurant manager and a vendor. He also insisted that African-American employees use a bathroom in the back, while white employees could use a customer bathroom.

What else? Bubba allegedly made lewd sexual remarks on a regular basis to Jackson and other women who worked at the restaurant, and regularly kept pornography on a work computer that Jackson had to access for her job. At one point, her ability to generate a profit prompted Bubba to call her “my little Jew girl,” according to the lawsuit. Jackson, by the way, is not Jewish. She left the job after a doctor advised her that relieving the stress would improve her health.

A law firm representing Deen says the allegations are false. “She has made baseless, inflammatory allegations, threatening to go to the press and ruin Paula Deen’s reputation and the reputation of her businesses unless we paid her a large sum of money,” the Oliver Maner law firm tells the Associated Press. “We refused to bow to that kind of pressure and refused to pay money to address false claims.” We left word for Bubba to give us a call and will update you accordingly.

The lawsuit, of course, consists of allegations, but the publicity over these sorts of charges underscores the hazards of hiring a celebrity as a public face. Unlike actors who are paid to do what they are told, celebrity spokespeople may bring some of baggage to their new role. Even before the lawsuit was filed and publicized, though, Deen had already created this sort of angst for Novo Nordisk.

“If they don’t drop her by the end of the week,” says Keith Vance, an adjunct assistant marketing professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University, “I will be both shocked and mortified.”

The drugmaker was harshly criticized by some for hiring Deen, even though the Novo Nordisk team was aware that the self-styled Queen of Southern Cuisine had type 2 diabetes when negotiations began last year. At the time, the National Enquirer reported that Deen was a diabetic, but the Food Network star never acknoweldged this publicly and continued to promote outlandish meals.

One recipe that continues to astonish – a breakfast sandwich that features burger meat, eggs and crispy bacon on a donut. Such dishes prompted critics of the Deen deal to say Novo Nordisk was hypocritical for hiring her as its spokesperson and should have found a way to end the relationship, because such behavior did a disservice to diabetics (see this).

Since she was hired, though, Novo Nordisk has worked hard to feature Deen in its ‘Diabetes In A New Light’ campaign, which the drugmaker argues symbolizes her ability to evolve. And Ambre Morley, associate director of product communications at Novo Nordisk, recently told us that the hardcore Deen fan base, which watches her Food Network show, will still expect a certain kind of cooking.

“Paula deen knows how to cook and not everyone in this country has diabetes,” she says. “I can still make some of the world’s best fried chicken – I don’t have to eat it every day, but I can show you how to cook it… What she wanted to do was provide people with options… And she made changes to her life… That’s one of the things we talked to her about… It’s been about providing people with a choice… What I think is has been missed from this story is what she’s doing to change.”

Given this latest round of publicity, however, Novo Nordisk may be the one to consider a change.

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