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Paula Deen admits to use of racial slurs during deposition

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Paula Deen is being sued by a former employee accusing her of sexual harassment and racism. (Source: Food Network/MGN Online) Paula Deen is being sued by a former employee accusing her of sexual harassment and racism. (Source: Food Network/MGN Online)

(RNN) - Celebrity chef and southern food connoisseur Paula Deen was back in a controversial spotlight Wednesday, alleged of using racial slurs as jokes in her restaurants in front of employees.

According to testimony from a deposition on May 17, Deen, 66, denied telling racial jokes, but admitted to using the N-word.

"Contrary to media reports, Ms. Deen does not condone or find the use of racial epithets acceptable," said Deen's lawyer Bill Franklin. "She is looking forward to her day in court."

According to the Associated Press, the popular Food Network chef said that her use of the racial slur may have come in a conversation to her husband about being robbed at gunpoint in the 1980s "when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head."

Deen was asked if she had used the slur since and said yes, but could not specify when or what context in which it was used.

"But that's just not a word that we use as time has gone on," Deen said. "Things have changed since the '60s in the South. And my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior. As well as I do."

Deen stumbled when she was asked if she thought uses of a racial slur were offensive if they were being said in a joke.

"That's kind of hard," Deen said. "Most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks ... They usually target, though, a group. Gays or straights, black, redneck, you know, I just don't know - I just don't know what to say. I can't, myself, determine what offends another person."

The deposition is a part of a lawsuit filed in Chatham County, GA by former employee Lisa T. Jackson. Jackson, who is white, filed the suit against Deen, her company Paula Deen Enterprises and her brother Earl "Bubba" Hiers in March 2012.

The civil suit accuses Deen and Hiers of "racial harassment, assault, battery and other humiliating conduct practiced upon the employees" while Jackson was a manager at Bubba's. Jackson said she "lived in fear of Bubba Hiers."

Jackson, who was quickly promoted from hostess to general manager in her tenure at the restaurant from 2005 to 2010, said Deen described what she wanted for "a true southern plantation-style wedding" she was catering.

The lawsuit alleged that Deen described a desire to have African Americans dressed in "long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties, you know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around." The lawsuit goes on to state that Deen followed by saying, "But we can't do that because the media would be on me about that."

Deen defended that portion of the lawsuit in the deposition.

"The whole entire wait staff was middle-aged black men, and they had on beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie. I mean, it was really impressive," Deen said. "And I remember saying I would love to have servers like that, I said, but I would be afraid that someone would misinterpret (it)."

In a statement to the Associated Press, Station spokeswoman Julie Halpin said,"The Food Network does not tolerate any form of discrimination and is a strong proponent of diversity and inclusion. We will continue to monitor the situation."

Deen's words became a trending topic on Twitter Wednesday. By Wednesday evening, #PaulasBestDishes - the name of her popular Food Network show - was among the top Twitter trends in the U.S. and was started by @jeffuhz at the mention by TheRoot.com's Tracy Clayton via Twitter. The Twitter postings included racial epithets intertwined with food dishes with the hashtag.

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