• Thomas Russell

Universal sends dealer letters regarding Paula Deen incident

HIGH POINT - Universal Furniture officials sent a letter to dealers on Monday stating the company will let the facts of her case involving her use racial slurs play out before taking any action on the licensed Paula Deen Home line.

Company President and CEO Jeff Scheffer also said it wants dealers to understand that it does not tolerate racial discrimination at Universal. "Discrimination of any sort is contrary to both our personal and our corporate philosophy," Scheffer wrote in the letter. "Our company is in fact full of diversity and we are richer for it."

The letter comes on the heels of the Food Network canceling its Paula Deen segment less than an hour after she posted two videotaped apologies asking both fans and critic forgiveness for her past use of racial slurs.

The slurs came to the surface during depositions in May related to a discrimination lawsuit filed in March 2011 by a former employee who managed Uncle Bubba's Seafood and Oyster House in Savannah, Ga. The suit, filed by Lisa T. Jackson, alleged that she and others were subject to sexual and racial harassment while employed at the restaurant.

According to the suit, Deen co-owns the restaurant with her brother, Earl W. "Bubba" Hiers.

"Inappropriate, hurtful language is totally, totally unacceptable," Deen said in a video posted on YouTube, the Huffington Post reported. "I've made plenty of mistakes along the way, but I beg you, my children, my team, my fans, my partners - I beg for your forgiveness."

Universal first launched the Paula Deen Home line in April 2009. The collection, one of the bestselling lines in recent company history, has reportedly had success at retail around country. The company has since launched a Paula Deen youth line that also has reportedly done well at retail.

In conjunction with product launches, the celebrity cook has appeared at the High Point furniture markets. Her most recent appearance included a culinary design challenge event involving local culinary students. During that same event, she also held a book signing where dozens of dealers lined up to have Deen sign books she has written. Through its partnership with Deen, Universal has helped organize such events during market.

Despite the controversy, it declined to rush to judgment until all the facts are presented.

"We believe it is only fair to you our dealer, our company and frankly Paula herself to let the facts play out before taking any action," Scheffer wrote.

In the letter, Scheffer said the company has had several conversations with Deen over the weekend and that she will tell her side of the story on a segment of NBC's The Today Show that will air Wednesday morning.

He also encouraged dealers to share their feedback and voice and concerns they might have regarding the issue.

Thomas RussellThomas Russell | Associate Editor, FurnitureToday

I'm Tom Russell and have worked at Furniture/Today since August 2003. Since then, I have covered the international side of the business from a logistics and sourcing standpoint. Since then, I also have visited several furniture trade shows and manufacturing plants in Asia, which has helped me gain perspective about the industry in that part of the world. As I continue covering the import side of the business, I look forward to building on that knowledge base through conversations with industry officials and future overseas plant tours. From time to time, I will file news and other industry perspectives online and, as always, welcome your response to these Web postings.

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