On Monday, January 23, 2023, a Multnomah County jury found that Rose Wakefield, a retinal imager at the Veterans’ Administration had suffered racial discrimination by PacWest Energy and Jacksons Food Stores, and awarded her damages of $1 million. The verdict included punitive damages of $550,000.
Wakefield’s claim included evidence that the gas station attendant at the Jacksons gas station in Town Center Mall in Beaverton ignored her when she pulled her car in, and when she sought to summon him for assistance he said, “I’ll get to you when I feel like it.” Wakefield got an employee from inside the store to pump the gas for her. The store employee testified that when she and Wakefield approached Wakefield’s car, the attendant, Nigel Powers, approached, and Wakefield forcefully told him not to come near her, but to stay away. The store employee, Brianna Horton, testified that she immediately realized that something untoward had already taken place between the two, and offered Wakefield a card with the corporate complaint number.
Wakefield, 63, testified that as she was leaving, she asked the attendant, Nigel Powers, why he had refused to help her, and that Powers replied, “I don’t serve Black people,” and laughed in her face.
The incident was March 12, 2020. A colleague of Wakefield at the VA testified that whenever the incident is mentioned, Wakefield’s emotional reaction is so strong that it reminds him of his clients who suffer from PTSD.
Wakefield was represented by Greg and Jason Kafoury of the Portland firm Kafoury & McDougal. Greg Kafoury argued to the jury that the defendants’ complaint system was meant to conceal evidence of wrongdoing, rather than to investigate it: “Within minutes of leaving the station, our client called the corporate complaint number, and spoke for 19 minutes, describing what had happened to her. Her call was not recorded, and the call taker instead wrote a single brief paragraph summarizing what Wakefield said, while removing the most damning accusation. Then, Wakefield left a lengthy voicemail with the regional manager, who made no notes of the content of the call, and erased the entire message.
"The attendant was never questioned by the company about the racist comments.
"And was disciplined only for failing to serve customers in the order of their arrival.”
Kafoury said that while the defense argued to the jury that Wakefield was lying, the defendants knew the plaintiff was telling the truth, pointing out that Powers was fired only a month after the incident. Kafoury said corporate records showed that the defendants had “papered his file” by writing him up four times in the next 30 days for talking on his cell phone. The Powers file contained no similar accusations in the previous year-and-a-half of his employment.
Kafoury told the jury that an award of $1 million would force the corporate defendants to explain why complaint calls were not recorded, and why Wakefield’s voicemail was erased, explaining that “A cop who erased evidence would go to jail for it.” Kafoury told the jury that a large verdict would send a message to corporations across the country that corporate investigations needed to be honest and transparent, and that covering up for racist abuse on the part of employees would not be tolerated by the larger community.
The defense was represented by Maurice Jenkins of Detroit, a partner in the national firm of Jackson Lewis along with local counsel Anthony Copple.