WASHINGTON COUNTY, Ore. — A jury in Multnomah County awarded a Portland woman $1 million in damages this week in a case of racial discrimination after she said a gas station attendant in Beaverton refused to fill up her car, telling her "I don't serve Black people."
Although it's been nearly three years since that confrontation, Rose Wakefield told KGW that it's still painful to talk about. She said all she wanted to do was get gas. Then, following the racist interaction, she wanted to reach upper management within Jacksons Food Stores to complain. However, her attorney, Gregory Kafoury, said her complaints weren't taken seriously or even properly recorded.
On March 12, 2020, Wakefield stopped at the Jacksons gas station in the Tanasbourne area hoping to fill up her car.
"I went to a gas station to get gas and service, and I wasn't served. I was actually humiliated and disrespected," she said.
Court documents detail how the attendant working that day, Nigel Powers, ignored her and filled up other cars that had arrived later than she had. Although she tried to get his attention, he continued to dismiss her.
Surveillance video showed Wakefield go inside to ask for help. Another employee followed her back outside to pump her gas.
As spelled out in the discrimination lawsuit, as Wakefield was leaving, the attendant told her, "I don't serve Black people," and laughed in her face.
"I was like, 'What world am I living in?'" she recalled. "This is not supposed to go down like that. It was a terrible, terrible confrontation between me and this guy."
Greg and Jason Kafoury of the Portland firm Kafoury & McDougal represented Wakefield.
"Ms. Wakefield originally was just going to let this go," said attorney Gregory Kafoury. "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,' and she came to us."
Kafoury explained that in the week following the incident, Wakefield tried to complain twice to managers, but those calls were largely disregarded. He said one of her calls was not recorded and a message she left for the regional manager was erased. He argued to the jury that the defendants' complaint system was meant to conceal evidence of wrongdoing, rather than investigate it.
"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 one," Kafoury said. "They tried to boil it down to she wasn't served in the order in which she arrived. It is pretty cynical and it's pretty ugly."
The civil trial, which went on for four days, ended this week. A jury found Wakefield was racially discriminated against and awarded her $1 million dollars in damages.
"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."
KGW reached out to the defendants, PacWest Energy and Jacksons Food Stores, for comment but only heard back from the president of Jacksons Food Stores.
At Jacksons, we have a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination of any kind. We serve everyone; this is core to our people mission and our policies and something we are committed to acting upon every day. We 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. We want to provide a safe shopping experience for all people and take equity very seriously. 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, President of Jacksons Food Stores