'I don't serve Black people': Oregon woman refused service at gas station awarded $1 million by jury
A jury unanimously awarded a woman $1 million in damages after jurors found the woman was discriminated against at a Portland, Oregon-area gas station where a pump attendant refused to serve her because she is Black.
Rose Wakefield filed the racial discrimination lawsuit against Jacksons Food Stores and a Beaverton, Oregon, Jacksons franchise owner over a March 2020 incident in which a gas station attendant ignored Wakefield and instead served other customers who arrived after her.
Oregon is one of two states in the country that bar customers from pumping their own gas.
Wakefield testified she had to seek assistance from a clerk inside the store before the attendant outside explained why he didn’t serve her: “I don’t serve Black people.”
Wakefield pulled to a pump at a Jacksons Food Store in Beaverton, Oregon, on March 12, 2020. Surveillance footage shows the pump attendant, Nigel Powers, ignored Wakefield and served white customers who arrived after Wakefield.
The footage also shows:
One customer points out to Powers that Wakefield had arrived first, but Powers proceeded to pump their gas anyway.
Footage captures Wakefield walking inside to ask for assistance from a clerk, explaining what had happened outside. The clerk goes outside and pumps Wakefield’s gas.
The pair returns inside and the clerk hands Wakefield a corporate business card with a number she can call to file a complaint. Wakefield also notifies the manager inside of the incident.
Upon returning to her vehicle, Wakefield said she asked Powers why he refused to serve her. Powers told her “I don’t serve Black people” and laughed.
Wakefield then called the corporate number to file a formal complaint.
Jacksons Food Stores did not address discrimination, lawyer says
Despite Wakefield detailing the incident in reports to corporate representatives, her lawyer, Gregory Kafoury, argued in court that Jacksons Food Stores tried to minimize the racial discrimination incident in its official records.
The calls in which Wakefield complained about discrimination were not recorded and customer service representatives made only one reference to race in their notes: “The caller…feel like he might be racist.”
A corporate district manager subsequently reached out to Wakefield and apologized over the fact that Powers did not serve her before other customers, but did not mention anything about discrimination.
“The company controls the information in the complaint process,” Kafoury told USA TODAY. “And that’s obviously designed to suck the life and spirit and vitality out of serious complaints…someone like her can pour her heart out about what happened to her and what’s left is just a few dry words on the page.”
Attendant fired over separate conduct
Court documents show Powers was fired just over a month after the incident.
Powers received a written reprimand for his behavior toward Wakefield, and then two more citations for using his cell phone during his shift.
Kafoury argued that Jacksons Food Stores used the cell phone usage write-ups as a pretext to fire him “Because they knew he was toxic. They knew he was racist.”
Wakefield traumatized by the incident
Kafoury said Wakefield, 63, suffered tremendous emotional damage over the incident, which resurfaced traumatic memories of racial abuse she experienced in high school.
Wakefield’s co-workers at the Veterans Administration testified that Wakefield was visibly shaken and struggled to get the words out to describe the incident.
One co-worker said Wakefield still has intense physical reactions when the incident comes up today, in a way that’s consistent with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
$1 million in damages
The jury awarded Wakefield $450,000 in damages over the discrimination and additional $550,00 in punitive damages from Jacksons Food Stores and Pacwest Energy LLC, the franchise owner of the store where the events unfolded.
Kafoury said he hoped the verdict would send a message to corporations that try to sweep serious complaints under the rug with opaque complaint processes.
An inquiry to Jacksons Food Stores’ attorney was not returned Monday afternoon.
A statement from the company last week said it has a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination of any kind and that it disagrees with the jury’s ruling because “our knowledge does not align with the verdict.”
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Oregon woman wins discrimination suit against gas station attendant