“I DON’T SERVE BLACK PEOPLE”: How an Oregon gas station attendant unleashed his racism on shocked woman
Nearly three years after being discriminated against at a gas station in a Portland suburb, a 63-year-old Oregon woman was just awarded $1 million by a jury.
According to Rose Wakefield, who is African-American, she stopped for gas at the Jacksons Food Store located in Beaverton, Oregon but was repeatedly ignored by the attendant, Nigel Powers.
When Wakefield noticed that cars arriving after her were being served, she tried to get Powers’ attention – to no avail.
Frustrated, the disrespected customer went inside to get help. But as she was leaving, Powers reportedly told Ms. Wakefield, “I don’t serve Black people,” while laughing at her.
Heavily populated areas in Oregon, like Portland and Beaverton, are required to have full-service gas stations, leaving Wakefield with few options. Thankfully a store employee followed her outside and pumped the gas for her instead.
“This is not supposed to go down like that,” Ms. Wakefield told local NBC affiliate, KGW8.
“I went to a gas station to get gas and service, and I wasn’t served,” she told reporters. “I wasn’t served. I was actually humiliated and disrespected.
During the four-day trial, jurors were shown surveillance video that substantiated much of Wakefield’s story. The jury was able to see the customer go inside after the brief encounter with Powell, and it shows an unnamed employee assisting Wakefield with her purchase.
According to the plaintiff’s attorney, Greg Kafoury, his client made multiple attempts to make an official complaint but was dismissed by the store’s managers. Wakefield alleges that a message left for the regional manager was erased.
It was an action that Kafoury contends was an attempt to cover up the incident.
“It’s a system not designed to find the truth, but a system designed to control information and to minimize a complaint and complaint as serious as this,” the attorney added.
PacWest Energy was listed alongside Jacksons as a defendant in the lawsuit, but the fossil fuel company didn’t respond to KGW8’s request for comment. Cory Jackson, the president of Jacksons Food Stores, however – did make the time to respond.
“At Jacksons, we have a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination of any kind. 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. As such, we respectfully disagree with the jury’s ruling because our knowledge does not align with the verdict,” Cory Jackson stated.
According to DEADState, Powell was eventually fired but not for his treatment of Ms. Wakefield.
For that, he faced no accountability. Apparently, at Jacksons, it’s OK to disrespect customers but using your cell phone on the job is a bridge too far.
With the incident still difficult for her to talk about, Wakefield made the decision to file a civil complaint because she was uneasy with the situation and how it was handled afterward by the store’s upper management.
“I didn’t want this to happen to anyone else,” she said. “It was a terrible scene, and no one should have to go through nothing like that.”
“I was like, ‘What world am I living in?” Wakefield said.
Unfortunately, a seemingly regressive one.
Though money can’t buy or replace the dignity taken from Ms. Wakefield by Mr. Powell, the jury decided to right that wrong.
In addition to the $1 million judgment, Oregon jurors also awarded the 63-year-old over $500,000 in punitive damages.
Original reporting by Alma McCarty at KGW8 and by Sky Palma at DeadState.
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