A couple of weeks ago, television cooking celebrity Paula Deen was fired from the Food Network as a result of her admission that she used racial (and other) slurs in the past. Deen’s admissions came via deposition testimony she gave last month in a harassment lawsuit filed by a former employee. As a result, the Food Network cancelled her show. As the scandal broke, former employees came forward with allegations of ugly discrimination. One claimed an African American employee was repeatedly referred to as “my little monkey.” Another claimed Deen’s brother told him he had no civil rights in their workplace.
At the root of this alleged behavior is a fundamental disrespect for others. Assuming the allegations are true (and note that Deen did not deny using the “n” word in the past), it is clear she viewed these employees as “different” and therefore beneath her. This kind of thinking is polarizing, to say the least, and sets the stage for the disrespectful behaviors reported to have occurred (not to mention the legal liability issues we have already seen).
Organizational leaders should take note of this case as an example of a big old “don’t.” Workplace behavior can be contagious. Respect begets more respect. Disrespect works the same way.
While many Deen fans are urging forgiveness, the issue is not whether or not Deen should be forgiven. That is between Deen and the individuals she allegedly hurt. Rather, the issue is what kind of a workplace environment should the Food Network tolerate. In my opinion, they made the right call.