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Paula Deen hires new legal team for discrimination suit

Food Network television personality Paula Deen cheers for her husband Michael Groover during the semi-finals of the "Papa" Hemingway Look-Al
Food Network television personality Paula Deen cheers for her husband Michael Groover during the semi-finals of the "Papa" Hemingway Look-Al

(Reuters) - Celebrity chef Paula Deen has hired new lawyers from an internationally known firm to defend her in a well publicized employment discrimination lawsuit, according to court filings.

Deen, 66, who had a multimillion-dollar enterprise built on books, restaurants, television shows and housewares, has lost about a dozen business deals after a deposition surfaced last month in which the TV chef admitted to using the "N-word."

Deen and her businesses will now be represented by Morgan Lewis & Bockius lawyers including Grace Speights, Jocelyn Cuttino and Alexis Thomas, said the court document filed on Thursday. Her former lawyers at Savannah, Georgia-based firm Oliver Maner asked to withdraw as counsel.

A spokeswoman for Morgan Lewis confirmed the move, and an Oliver Maner attorney said via email that the firm would issue a statement tomorrow.

Pharmacy chain Walgreens, department store JC Penney and Sears Holdings Corp, which owns department store Sears and discount retailer Kmart, all said last month they planned to discontinue Deen's product lines.

Scripps Networks Interactive Inc's cable TV channel the Food Network, which aired Deen's cooking shows, was the first to drop Deen. A number of companies have severed ties with the chef, including Caesars Entertainment Corp, which operated Deen-branded restaurants; retailers Target Corp and Wal-Mart Stores Inc; and Danish drug maker Novo Nordisk A/S, which used Deen as a pitchwoman.

The lawsuit in a Georgia federal court involves claims of sexual harassment, and alleges a pattern of racial discrimination against African-American employees in Deen's businesses.

The case in U.S. District Court, Southern District of Georgia is Lisa Jackson vs. Paula Deen, Paula Deen Enterprises et al., 12-cv-139.

(Reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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