A Portland jury has awarded $1 million to a woman who filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against a gas station after a former employee refused to attend to her because he doesn’t “serve Black people.”
According to The Oregonian, the March 2020 encounter occurred at Jacksons Food Store in Beaverton. The plaintiff, Rose Wakefield, had gone to the station to fill up her car. And though she had arrived at the station before other drivers, she realized the attendant had left her unattended and was rather serving customers who came to meet her.
When the 63-year-old Black woman asked the attendant – Nigel Powers – to serve her, the lawsuit stated that the White employee said, “I’ll get to you when I feel like it.”
During the trial, surveillance footage of what transpired at the time of the incident was played. In the video, Wakefield was seen making her way into the gas station mart and having a conversation with the manager and another worker. The latter ultimately exited the mart and pumped gas into Wakefield’s vehicle.
Prior to leaving the station, Wakefield asked Powers why he ignored her. The 23-year-old responded by saying it was because of her skin color, the lawsuit stated, adding that Powers also laughed.
“It was humiliating. I felt like a slave without chains,” Wakefield said after the jury’s decision on Monday. “The bottom line is I can’t take my skin off and lay it down on the couch. I’m going to be who I am.”
In the wake of the incident, court documents revealed Wakefield got in touch with the company, The Oregonian reported. But, Wakefield’s attorney, Greg Kafoury, said the company did not save the phone conversation. The attorney also said the company summed the conversation up in an attempt to tone the racist encounter down.
Following the incident, Powers was given a written warning. But it was for going against the company’s “first in, first out” service policy, company records made available by Kafoury stated. A month after that, Kafoury said Powers was terminated for being on his phone while on duty. During pre-trial negotiations, Kafoury also said the company attempted to settle the lawsuit by offering the plaintiff $12,000.
Responding to the verdict in a statement, Jackson Food Store’s President Cory Jackson said the company has a “zero-tolerance policy for discrimination”, adding that they “provide multiple trainings to our employees — the lifeblood of our company — throughout the year so they can best serve all of our customers with dignity and respect”, KGW reported.
“After carefully reviewing all facts and evidence, including video surveillance, we chose to take this matter to trial because we were comfortable with our knowledge of the facts of the case,” said Jackson. “As such, we respectfully disagree with the jury’s ruling because our knowledge does not align with the verdict.”
Wakefield’s encounter with Powers isn’t the first time she has experienced an incident of such nature as she spent her childhood in Northeast Portland in the 1970s. As a result of a one-way desegregation program that negatively impacted Black students, a bus had to take her to Jackson High School.
“If something like this happens to you, don’t let it slide, that’s my message,” she said. “Because somebody else will have to suffer for what you didn’t take care of.”