The work environment at Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House, a restaurant owned by celebrity chef Paula Deen and her brother, may be as bad or even worse than previously reported.
In an investigation released by Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, some of Deen’s African-American employees allege that they have been verbally and physically abused on the job.
In interviews with Rainbow/PUSH attorney Robert Patillo, employees, who were identified by letters, related a number of horror stories.
“Employee C states that she was forced to quit after a white male employee told her to ‘suck my sweaty white b—s’ during a disagreement at work,” reported Patillo. “Employee C reported this incident to management but stated that she quit when no immediate action was taken to discipline the employee.”
An employee identified as Employee D reported that the same white employee “called him nigger 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,’” Patillo’s report said.
Multiple employees also told the commission that African-American employees were often denied promotions in favor of White employees, that Black employees were regularly denied pay raises, in one case for more than 20 years, and that Black employees were forced to use an “Employee Bathroom” in the back of the restaurant that 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.
There were also more reports of racial slurs being used by management and degrading treatment of Black employees.
“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.”
The report goes on to state that the same employee told the commission about an experience during the 2007 Savannah State Homecoming. The employee said that as numerous African-American patrons were inside the restaurant the man known as Uncle Bubba pulled the restaurant’s general manager into his office and told her, “Please handle them. These niggers are driving me crazy!”
There are also claims of physical abuse.
According to Patillo, one employee said she witnessed an incident during which ‘Uncle Bubba’ shook a Black employee and told him to “Act like a man” and said “You ain’t got no rights.”
While the testimony is damning, other surveyed employees appeared to contradict the negative feedback.
“More than half of employees surveyed reported their experience to be good, great, or exceptional,” reported Patillo. “Primary factors contributing to employee’s positive responses include: a family environment, high pay, staff continuity, career advancement.”
Patillo reports that employees were pleased with Deen’s effort to hire African Americans, especially those that may find it harder to get a job because of their criminal background and lack of experience.
Patillo’s report also acknowledged that the coalition did not directly link Deen to the racial tension within the workplace.
“There is limited evidence of direct racism or racial discrimination on the part of Mrs. Paula Deen, reported Patillo. “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.”
In light of the findings, Rainbow/PUSH attorney Janice L. Mathis developed a list of recommendations to help Paula Deen Enterprises, Inc. fix their current problems and rebuild their image.
The list includes:
• Scholarship fund for employees who want to study business, hospitality, or culinary arts
• Increase the number of Black restaurant managers
• Complete the Rainbow PUSH diversity and inclusion survey
• Settlement fund for current and former employees aggrieved by policies to be arbitrated by neutral party after hearing claims
• Thorough re-engineering of HR policies and procedures
• Establish a revolving loan fund for black restaurant business expansion
• Ongoing diversity training for all managers and staff
• External diversity advisory committee
• Internal diversity consultant