SAVANNAH, Ga. -- A federal judge has rejected an attempt to return a lawsuit against Savannah celebrity chef Paula Deen and her family run enterprises to state court, calling arguments by the plaintiff’s lawyers absurd.
U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr., in an 11-page order filed Aug. 23, ruled arguments by attorneys for the former general manager of Uncle Bubba’s seafood house “simply def(y) logic and borders on the ludicrous.”
At issue is which court should hear the suit by Lisa T. Jackson, who alleges she was the victim of sexual harassment and a persistent pattern of racial discrimination in the workplace at Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House Inc. on Whitemarsh Island. The restaurant is operated by Deen’s brother, Earl W. “Bubba” Hiers.
Jackson’s initial suit before Chatham County Superior Court Judge Louisa Abbot steered clear of federal claims, relying on alleged Georgia law violations.
Her amended suit, filed a month later, asserted claims under federal law, which defense lawyers argued presented a jurisdictional issue.
Deen’s lawyers moved the case to federal court. In response, Jackson’s lawyers tried to move it back to superior court.
They argued that because Deen’s defense team had not removed the first case, they could not remove the amended complaint.
Moore said his review of the case left him “with the distinct impression that (Jackson’s lawyers) drafted it in such a way as to specifically avoid federal court.”
He ruled the initial suit was not removable, adding those lawyers never alleged violations of federal law by the defendants. He said “it is odd to think” the case is now removable simply because defense attorneys have turned state claims into federal causes of action.
“So, to now say that the initial complaint was removable because defendants incorrectly identified the state claim as (federal) claims, which had never been part of this case, simply defies logic and borders on the ludicrous,” Moore ruled.
Attorneys for Deen and her enterprises, which include The Lady & Sons Restaurant, deny the allegations and charge the litigation is designed to damage Deen’s reputation and the value of her business.