TV network wary after past racial slur by celebrity chef Paula Deen

ATLANTA Thu Jun 20, 2013 7:15pm EDT

Food Network television personality Paula Deen cheers for her husband Michael Groover during the semi-finals of the ''Papa'' Hemingway Look-Alike Contest at Sloppy Joe's Bar in Key West, Florida July 21, 2012. REUTERS/Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau/Handout

Food Network television personality Paula Deen cheers for her husband Michael Groover during the semi-finals of the ''Papa'' Hemingway Look-Alike Contest at Sloppy Joe's Bar in Key West, Florida July 21, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau/Handout

ATLANTA (Reuters) - One of U.S. celebrity chef Paula Deen's employers said on Thursday it was monitoring the controversy over her admission that she has used a racial slur in the past, while Deen's own company said the cooking star does not condone racism.

In a May 17 court deposition that surfaced on Wednesday, Deen, who is white, was asked if she had used the so-called N-word, a racial epithet directed against African-Americans, to which she responded: "Yes, of course."

The Food Network, which broadcasts two popular shows featuring Deen and her Southern cooking, said it was keeping an eye on the flap resulting from her statements that have been widely criticized on social media.

"Food Network does not tolerate any form of discrimination and is a strong proponent of diversity and inclusion," the network said.

The videotaped deposition was taken as part of a lawsuit by a former employee of Paula Deen Enterprises, Lisa Jackson, who is suing Deen and her brother Earl "Bubba" Hiers in their home state of Georgia for racial and sexual discrimination in the workplace.

Deen said she had used the racial epithet when describing, probably to her husband, how a black man robbed a bank where she was working. She said she had used the word since, "but it's been a very long time."

The lawsuit alleges that, while discussing with Jackson plans for Hiers' 2007 wedding, Deen said she wanted a "true southern plantation-style wedding" and used the slur to describe the black men she would want serving at the wedding dressed in white shirts, black shorts and bow ties. In the deposition, Deen said she referred to the race of the servers as black.

Jackson's lawyer, S. Wesley Woolf of Savannah, did not return calls seeking comment. An attorney for Deen said the author of more than a dozen cookbooks was looking forward to her day in court and did not condone any use of racial epithets.

In a statement on Thursday about the deposition, Deen's company, Paula Deen Enterprises, said she "recounted having used a racial epithet in the past, speaking largely about a time in American history which was quite different than today.

"She was born 60 years ago when America's South had schools that were segregated, different bathrooms, different restaurants and Americans rode in different parts of the bus. This is not today," the statement added.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Andre Grenon)