The Most Dangerous Woman in America: Paula Deen's Ethical Issues

By Holland, Phyllis G. | Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Most Dangerous Woman in America: Paula Deen's Ethical Issues


Holland, Phyllis G., Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies


CASE DESCRIPTION

"The Most Dangerous Woman in American" is Paula Deen who was described in these terms by one of her fellow chefs on the Food Network. Ms. Deen was originally criticized for the unhealthy ingredients which she featured in her recipes, but the criticism increased when she announced that she had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. In fact, Ms. Deen had amassed considerable wealth with her unhealthy recipes and was viewed by some as promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. Since obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, she was accused of hypocrisy in that she continued in her usual mode three years after her diagnosis. She added insult to injury by timing her announcement of her diagnosis to coincide with her affiliation with a new diabetes drug. She became the target of criticism for allegedly promoting the kind of food that is a risk factor for diabetes and then capitalizing on a drug endorsement for the treatment.

The case provides a forum for discussion of the ethics of a decision that was personal but had business consequences. The issues of how to move past this crisis has an ethical dimension as well. This case has a level four difficulty. Seniors in Strategic Management courses are encouraged to consider the ethical aspects of decisions. This case allows both analysis in hindsight of what might or should have been done and requires decisions about how to maintain brand loyalty going forward.

This case is designed to be taught in a 50- minute class and is expected to require about an hour of outside preparation by students.

CASE SYNOPSIS

However, that food is not the only cause and that people may not eat something just because they see it prepared on television.

Deen Enterprises' On January 17, 2012, Paula Deen, famous for high calorie Southern cooking, went public with what amounted to an open secret: She had been diagnosed three years earlier with Type 2 Diabetes. During that three year period, she had continued to promote the type of foods that most people view as causing or at least contributing to diabetes. It appeared that people were lining up to sneer at her, to question her judgment, and her ethics. There is an often quoted test for judging the ethics of a decision: Imagine yourself explaining your decision on TV. The popular Food Network chef found herself in this situation as she explained her decision to keep her diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes a secret for three years. She timed her announcement to coincide with the announcement of her endorsement and contract with a diabetes drug.

While diet is a risk factor for diabetes, it is far from the only risk factor. Other factors include age, activity level, and family history. Diabetes is a serious disease and can lead to other conditions which are life-threating. Approximately 23 million Americans have the condition and because early symptoms are mild or nonexistent may not be aware of it. Students should realize, holdings and interests go well beyond food and are estimated to be worth approximately $10 million annually. The case requires students to review the ethical and financial implications of her decision. What is the responsibility of a personality such as Paula Deen to her fans? How should this responsibility affect her business decisions in the future? What steps should be taken to control damage to the Paula Deen brand?

THE ANNOUNCEMENT

On January 17, 2012, Paula Deen, chef, TV personality, and brand name, confirmed rumors that she has Type 2 diabetes. The diagnosis was three years old and had already been suspected and discussed in some quarters. In the past year, a Food Network rival, Anthony Bourdain had castigated her penchant for recipes loaded with butter, sugar, and other unhealthy ingredients and called her the "most dangerous person in America." Her response was that Mr. Bourdain should "get a life." He denied calling her "a diabetic scam artist" as reported by one website but did have some harsh comments (a Tweet actually) for her decision to become a paid spokeswoman for a diabetes medication and the timing of the two announcements. …

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