COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A Franklin County jury found that a Black woman that used to work at a Polaris department store is entitled to receive more than $9 million in damages after claiming she faced racial discrimination.
The jury in the county’s common pleas court reached its verdict on May 25 that Elizabeth Cook, who filed a lawsuit against Saks Fifth Avenue in 2019 claiming racial discrimination, is entitled to more than $2 million in compensatory damages and $7 million in punitive damages, according to court documents.
“We do not tolerate employees violating our policies, and reserve the right to hold them accountable in all instances, including through termination,” said a Saks Fifth Avenue spokesperson in a statement to NBC4. “Our position remains that there was no discrimination or retaliation involved in this situation. We are disappointed in the jury’s decision and plan to appeal the outcome.”
The Canal Winchester native’s complaint was filed Nov. 5, 2019, three months after she was fired from Saks Fifth Avenue. Cook worked at Saks Fifth Avenue for eight years, working up from a part-time position in the shoe department to a sales associate. In the lawsuit, she claims that two co-workers disciplined her in a “racially discriminatory manner” for work practices that other co-workers carried out and were not disciplined for.
Cook was then fired for allegedly violating a work policy one month before it came into effect. The complaint states that Saks Fifth Avenue banned a practice called “re-ringing”, which is when customers return and purchase the same item to allow participation in promotions. The lawsuit claims this was a common customer service practice for Saks employees and the practice was banned on August 19, 2019.
On August 20, 2019, Cook was fired for “re-rings” she did in July with the lawsuit claiming the July “re-rings” is what her co-worker, a defendant in the suit, said she was fired for. Court documents say Cook claimed she was fired based on her race. The complaint also alleges Saks Fifth Avenue has faced multiple discrimination lawsuits since 2013.
The original complaint requested Cook receive $25,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. To read the full complaint, click here.
“First and foremost, I want to express my deep and heartfelt gratitude to the judge,
her court staff, and especially the jury,” said Cook in a statement. “This process helped restore the dignity I lost five years ago when I was unlawfully terminated by Saks Fifth Avenue.”
“While I can understand that rogue managers and bad employees can lead to bad outcomes like mine, I still cannot fathom how Saks’s internal racial discrimination complaint process completely failed. I made a complaint. It was ignored in violation of Saks’ written policy. There was a process in place built to protect me. That process failed. I think the jury’s award reflects that. My hope is that Saks has learned from this and others who find themselves in my position moving forward are protected.”