An attorney for the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition said current and former Paula Deen employees told him the famous cook and her brother discriminated against black employees, one of whom was consistently referred to as "my little monkey," reports the Huffington Post.
After Deen acknowledged using a racial slur, the story went viral and the Food Network announced on Friday that it would not renew her contract when it expires at the end of June.
Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers, are being sued by Lisa T. Jackson, a former employee who claims she endured a hostile work environment replete with racial slurs.
Robert Patillo, an attorney for Rainbow/PUSH, a civil rights group founded by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jr., said one current and two former employees told him white employees are routinely paid more than black employees and are promoted more quickly. A black man who had threatened to go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Deen's brother told him "you don't have any civil rights here," Rainbow/PUSH said in a press release.
Rainbow/PUSH said it has "found evidence of systemic racial discrimination and harassment" by Deen and that "a family member consistently referred to a black cook as 'my little monkey.'"
Patillo, who conducted interviews in Savannah where Deen's restaurant is located, said current and former employees told him that Deen "preferred white and light-skinned blacks to work with customers" and that darker-skinned blacks were relegated to "back-of-the-house operations."
Patillo said employees have been reluctant to talk to him about their experience with Deen because they fear retaliation.
Deen could not be reached on Saturday for comment on the Rainbow/PUSH allegations. She acknowledged in a deposition that she used a racial slur "a very long time" ago. CBS News has also reported that Deen said jokes often target minority groups.
"I can't, myself, determine what offends another person," the station quoted Deen as saying.
With social media ablaze, Deen on Friday released a pair of videos apologizing and begging for forgiveness.
"I want to apologize to everybody for the wrong that I've done," she said. "I want to learn and grow from this. Inappropriate, hurtful language is totally, totally unacceptable."
In an interview with The AJC, Patillo said Deen's use of a racial slur isn't the problem. "It's a free country," Patillo said. "We have freedom of speech, and you can say what you want. Our issue is whether that mindset has filtered into employment decisions."
Patillo said there are strong indications that Deen's operation mistreats and limits opportunities for black employees.
"What we've found is that there has been disparate treatment," Patillo said. "What we'd like is to have her remedy the situation."
Those remedies, Patillo said, should include giving blacks a fair chance for employment and promotion, sensitivity training and providing an avenue of recourse for those who have been mistreated.