Black woman refused service at Oregon gas station is awarded $1M in discrimination lawsuit
An Oregon jury awarded a Black woman $1 million in damages this week in a civil case after a gas attendant at a full-service gas station told her, “I don’t serve Black people.”
On March 12, 2020, Rose Wakefield stopped at Jacksons Food Store in Beaverton, Ore., to get her gas pumped. She said the attendant, Nigel Powers, disregarded her after she tried to get his attention several times, filling up for other cars that drove into the station after her.
"I went to a gas station to get gas and service, and I wasn't served. I was actually humiliated and disrespected," Wakefield told a local media outlet, KGW.
According to Wakefield’s attorney, Gregory Kafoury, when she tried to ask for help from Powers, he said, “I'll get to you when I feel like it.”
Surveillance video shows Wakefield going into the store to get help after complaining that Powers had continued to ignore her. Another employee then followed her outside and finally serviced her. According to the Washington Post, Kafoury said that when they walked toward her car, Powers approached the store clerk, Wakefield and the vehicle.
“Rose holds out her arms and says, ‘Don’t come any closer, stay away from my car,’” Kafoury told the Post.
As Wakefield was leaving the gas station, she asked Powers, “Why did you treat me this way?” Powers then told her, “I don’t serve Black people” and laughed in her face, according to court documents.
Yahoo News wasn’t able immediately to reach Powers for comment.
Gas attendants are required by law to pump fuel for motorists at gas stations in Oregon’s larger population centers. New Jersey and Oregon are the only states that place restrictions on self-service gasoline.
Kafoury said that when Wakefield called the corporate hotline twice the following week to complain, her calls were ignored. He added that Powers was written up that day for an unrelated incident. Powers was eventually fired, but for being written up for talking on his cellphone.
In October 2020, Wakefield filed a lawsuit, saying that she suffered from “feelings of racial stigmatization, humiliation and anger.” The gas station tried to settle with her for $12,000 before a trial.
The lawsuit between Wakefield and Jacksons Food Stores and PacWest Energy, the gas station operator, eventually went to a civil trial at Multnomah County Circuit Court that lasted four days. The jury found that Wakefield had been racially discriminated against, and the circuit court awarded her $450,000 for discrimination and ordered the defendants to pay $330,000 and $220,000 in damages, respectively.
Jacksons Food Stores said in a statement to local media that although the company has a “zero-tolerance policy for discrimination,” it disagreed with the ruling.
“After carefully reviewing all facts and evidence, including video surveillance, we chose to take this matter to trial because we were comfortable based on our knowledge that the service-related concern actually reported by the customer was investigated and promptly addressed,” the statement said. “As such, we respectfully disagree with the jury’s ruling because our knowledge does not align with the verdict.”