07/01/2013 05:21 pm ET

Paula Deen's Lawyers Cite Hollingsworth V. Perry In Bid To Dismiss Race Lawsuit


The Supreme Court's ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry, which effectively legalized gay marriage in California, could have a very surprising beneficiary: Paula Deen.

On Monday, the celebrity chef's lawyers cited Chief Justice John Roberts' decision on the case in a filing submitted to the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Georgia. Deen's lawyers have argued for months that a lawsuit brought by Lisa Jackson, a manager at one of Deen's restaurants, should be dismissed because the plaintiff lacks the standing to bring it to court.

(It was during a deposition for this lawsuit that Deen admitted to making several statements that were widely interpreted as racially insensitive, sparking a huge controversy that ultimately resulted in the vast majority of Deen's corporate sponsors ending their partnerships with the chef.)

Deen's lawyers first mounted the standing argument in a December motion to dismiss the lawsuit [pdf], writing that Jackson can't sue Deen and her brother Bobby Hiers for racial discrimination because she herself is white. In their most recent filing [pdf], the defense bolstered this argument by quoting a paragraph from Roberts' decision, emphasizing one sentence in particular: "In other words, for a federal court to have authority under the Constitution to settle a dispute, the party before it must seek a remedy for a personal and tangible harm."

The idea here is that Lisa Jackson shouldn't be allowed to sue for racial discrimination because she could not have been harmed by it, regardless of whether any racial discrimination took place. Just as the Supreme Court refused to consider former Calif. State Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth's defense of gay-marriage ban Proposition 8 because they believed he could not be tangibly harmed by gay marriage.

Deen's lawyers summed up their stance in a separate filing on the Jackson case [pdf].

"Jackson cannot enforce someone else’s rights, and she has no actionable claim for feeling 'uncomfortable' around discriminatory conduct directed at others;" they wrote, before quoting Bermudez v. TRC Holdings, Inc., "'[i]f unease on observing wrongs perpetrated against others were enough to support litigation, all doctrines of standing and justiciability would be out the window.'"

It's not yet clear that the lawyers' Supreme Court citation will make any difference in the case. In their response to Deen's original motion to dismiss the suit, Jackson's lawyers cited 16 other cases to support their client's standing to sue for racial discrimination despite her race (though Jackson has also noted she has biracial nieces). And Roberts didn't invent (or even do much to change) the concept of standing in his Hollingsworth v. Perry decision; he just applied it one specific case.

Moreover, the Jackson lawsuit itself is the least of Deen's worries at this point. The scandal that ensued has already cost her far more than any court judgment could.



Paula Deen Racism Scandal Timeline