PORTLAND, Ore. — A jury has awarded an Oregon woman $1 million in damages after finding she was discriminated against by a gas station employee who told her, “I don’t serve Black people.”
The Multnomah County jury’s award this week to Portland resident Rose Wakefield, 63, included punitive damages of $550,000.
Wakefield’s lawyer, Gregory Kafoury, said she stopped for gas at Jacksons Food Store in Beaverton on March 12, 2020, and saw the attendant, Nigel Powers, ignore her and instead pump gas for other drivers.
When she tried to ask for assistance, he said, “I’ll get to you when I feel like it,” according to Kafoury.
Attendants are required to pump fuel for motorists at gas stations in Oregon’s larger population centers including Portland and the nearby suburb of Beaverton.
Surveillance video showed Wakefield go inside to ask for help. Another employee followed her back outside to pump her gas. Kafoury said as she was leaving, Wakefield asked Powers why he refused to help her and that he said, “I don’t serve Black people.”
“I was like, ‘What world am I living in?’ ” Wakefield told KGW. “This is not supposed to go down like that. It was a terrible, terrible confrontation between me and this guy.”
During the following week, Wakefield complained twice to managers, but her phone calls were largely disregarded, Kafoury said.
Powers was fired a month later after corporate records showed he had been written up several times for talking on his cellphone, Kafoury said.
“Ms. Wakefield originally was just going to let this go,” Kafoury said. “She told her friends that it was too disturbing, and she didn’t want to deal with it. And then she thought about it and said, ‘It’s too wrong. I have to do something about it.’ ”
A statement from Jacksons Food Stores Thursday said the company has a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination of any kind and that it respectfully disagrees with the jury’s ruling because “our knowledge does not align with the verdict.”
“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.
The company didn’t elaborate, but Kafoury said Powers was never questioned by the company about the racist comments and was disciplined only for failing to serve customers in the order of their arrival.
Efforts to contact Powers were unsuccessful.