One of the most frustrating things about being Black in America is experiencing racist interactions and knowing the likelihood that people won’t believe you when you complain about it publicly. Fortunately, for a Black woman in Oregon who said, in 2020, a store clerk ignored her and then told her “I don’t serve Blacks,” a jury did believe her—while the store’s president didn’t—and awarded her $1 million after she filed a racial discrimination lawsuit.
According to KATU 2, a Multnomah County jury made the decision Monday that Rose Wakefield was indeed discriminated against by a Jacksons Food Stores employee whose alleged anti-Blackness cost his employer seven figures.
“I feel vindicated,” Wakefield said. “There’s really no amount of money to accept that type of behavior from anyone. But the million dollars, it sends a message.”
Wakefield claimed the gas station attendant, Nigel Powers, ignored her request for service after she pulled into the business on Town Center Drive in Beaverton. Powers “ignored” Wakefield and assisted other customers despite her requests, according to the lawsuit.
Before Wakefield left the station “she confronted Nigel and told him he was wrong to treat her that way. Nigel responded, ‘I don’t serve Blacks,’” according to her lawsuit.
After Wakefield complained to the company, a district manager told Wakefield in a letter that they did not have an audio recording of the interaction.
Cory Jackson, the president of Jacksons Food Stores, said in a statement to KATU that the company disagrees with the ruling.
“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,” Jackson said. “As such, we respectfully disagree with the jury’s ruling because our knowledge does not align with the verdict.”
First of all, why would there be an audio recording of a random interaction Wakefield likely wasn’t expecting? And does the lack of an audio recording mean the Black customer’s claim should just be dismissed outright? Lastly, without audio, how would “video surveillance” prove or disprove what was said to the customer?
If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the store’s representatives were scrambling for reasons to deny a racism claim to avoid accountability. One can only wonder if they even considered that it’s not likely that anyone is going to fight an expensive legal battle for three years over something they just made up out of thin air.
Meanwhile, Wakefield’s attorney, Greg Kafoury, claimed the company fired Powers but fabricated the reason for the termination to make it look like it was anything besides racism.
“They wrote him up four times for talking on his cell phone on the job,” Kafoury said. “In the year and a half there, he had never been accused of that. But all of a sudden, four times in 30 days. And then they fired him after they papered the file. This shows that they knew that he had done exactly what Rose Wakefield had accused him of.”
A lot of folks would be surprised about how often we Black people just keep it to ourselves when we experience racism because we know what an uphill battle it is to get anyone besides other Black people to take us seriously. Thankfully, it worked out differently for Wakefield, and hopefully, her story will send a message that people can’t treat us any old kind of way without consequences
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