A jury awarded a 63-year-old Oregon woman $1 million in damages after a gas station attendant told her, “I don’t serve Black people.”
Rose Wakefield’s award also included $550,000 in punitive damages.
Gregory Kafoury, Wakefield’s attorney, said that on March 12, 2020, she stopped for gas at Jacksons Food Store in Beaverton and observed Nigel Powers, the attendant, ignore her while pumping gas for other drivers.
According to Kafoury, when Wakefield asked for assistance, Power told her, “I’ll get to you when I feel like it.”
Several of Oregon’s larger population centers, including Portland and Beaverton, require attendants at gas stations to pump fuel for customers.
According to video footage, Wakefield entered the store to ask for help, and another employee followed her outside to fill her gas tank.
Kafoury said Wakefield asked Powers why he wouldn’t help her, and he replied, “I don’t serve Black people.”
“I was like, ‘What world am I living in?’” Wakefield said. “This is not supposed to go down like that. It was a terrible, terrible confrontation between me and this guy.”
Wakefield complained to supervisors twice the following week, but Kafoury claimed that her phone calls were routinely ignored.
After a month, Powers was let go after it was found through company records that he had received many written warnings for using his cell phone.
“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.’”
The company issued a statement saying it does not tolerate discrimination and that it respectfully disagrees with the jury’s verdict because “our knowledge does not align with the verdict.”
The statement said, “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.”
According to Kafoury, Powers was never questioned about the racist remarks and was merely disciplined for failing to serve customers on time.