Oregon woman wins discrimination lawsuit against gas station attendant
A jury unanimously awarded a woman $1 million in damages after jurors found the woman had been discriminated against at a Portland, Oregon-area gas station where a gas station attendant refused to serve her because she is black.
Rose Wakefield has filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against Jacksons Food Stores and a Beaverton, Ore., Jacksons franchise owner over a March 2020 incident in which a gas station attendant ignored Wakefield and instead served other customers arrived after her.
Oregon is one of two states in the country that prohibit customers from pumping their own gas.
Wakefield testified that she had to seek help from a clerk inside the store before the attendant outside explained why he hadn’t served her: “I don’t serve black people.
Wakefield stopped at a pump at a Jacksons Food Store in Beaverton, Oregon on March 12, 2020. Surveillance footage shows the gas station attendant, Nigel Powers, ignoring Wakefield and serving white customers who arrived after Wakefield.
The pictures also show:
- A customer points out to Powers that Wakefield arrived first, but Powers pumped his gas anyway.
- Footage shows Wakefield walking inside to seek help from a clerk, explaining what happened outside. The clerk comes out and pumps Wakefield’s gas.
- The pair head back inside and the clerk hands Wakefield a company business card with a number she can call to file a complaint. Wakefield also informs the inside manager of the incident.
- Back in his vehicle, Wakefield said he asked Powers why he refused to serve her. Powers told him “I don’t serve black people” and laughed.
- Wakefield then called the company’s number to file a formal complaint.
Jacksons Food Stores failed to address discrimination, lawyer says
Although Wakefield detailed the incident in reports to company officials, his attorney, Gregory Kafoury, argued in court that Jacksons Food Stores tried to downplay the racial discrimination incident in its official records.
- Calls in which Wakefield complained of discrimination were not recorded, and customer service representatives made only one reference to race in their notes: “The caller…seems that he might be racist.”
- A corporate district manager then contacted Wakefield and apologized for not serving her before other customers, but made no mention of discrimination.
- “The company controls the information in the complaint process,” Kafoury told USA TODAY. “And it’s obviously designed to suck the life, the spirit and the vitality out of serious complaints… someone like her can pour out what happened to her and there’s only a few dry words left on the page.”
A licensed attendant for separate conduct
Court documents show Powers was fired just over a month after the incident.
- Powers received a written reprimand for his behavior towards Wakefield and then two more citations for using his cellphone while on his shift.
- Kafoury argued that Jacksons Food Stores used the reports of cellphone use as a pretext to fire him “Because they knew he was toxic. They knew he was racist.
Wakefield traumatized by incident
Kafoury said Wakefield, 63, suffered tremendous emotional damage during the incident, which resurfaced traumatic memories of racial abuse she suffered in high school.
- Wakefield’s colleagues at the Veterans Administration testified that Wakefield was visibly shaken and had trouble getting the words across to describe the incident.
- A colleague said Wakefield was still having intense physical reactions when the incident happened today, in a way consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder.
$1 million in damages
The jury awarded Wakefield $450,000 in discrimination damages and an additional $550,000 in punitive damages from Jacksons Food Stores and Pacwest Energy LLC, the franchise owner of the store where the events took place.
Kafoury said he hopes the verdict sends a message to companies trying to sweep serious complaints under the rug with opaque complaint processes.
A request to Jacksons Food Stores attorney was not returned Monday afternoon.
A statement from the company last week said it had a zero tolerance policy for any form of discrimination and disagreed with the jury’s decision as ‘our knowledge does not match the verdict’ .
Contributor: Associated Press