December 10, 2012

Portland woman wins $123K in Zales discrimination suit

RyiSHisa Morris, who is African-American and Native American, was refused service and verbally assaulted in 2010 by a clerk at the Maine Mall store.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — A Portland woman who sued a Zales jewelry store in South Portland, claiming she was denied service because of her race, was awarded more than $120,000 Monday, the woman's law firm said.

RyiSHisa Morris, who is African-American and Native American, was trying to return an item she had bought at Piercing Pagoda -- a division of Zale Delaware Inc. of Irving, Texas -- in the Maine Mall on March 17, 2010, according to the lawsuit.

The clerk became belligerent with Morris and told her, "I've had enough with your kind," the lawsuit says.

Morris called customer service when the clerk denied her return, and the clerk called for mall security. While she was on the phone with customer service, Morris was approached by three security officers, according to the complaint filed on Dec. 29, 2011.

Justice Nancy Mills ruled on the case in Cumberland County Superior Court on May 17, awarding Morris $100,000, plus legal fees and interest.

Zale Delaware Inc. appealed. That appeal was denied on Nov. 27.

"While the plaintiff spoke with the defendant's customer service representative on the telephone, the defendant's store clerk yelled and swore at the plaintiff," Mills wrote in her judgment.

Morris' attorney, Kelly Hoffman of the firm Norman, Hanson & DeTroy, brought the case to the Maine Human Rights Commission, which determined that Morris had been the victim of illegal discrimination.

The final award was for $123,347, paid in full Monday to Norman, Hanson & DeTroy. Mills' judgment ordering the company to pay $100,000 in damages is the maximum allowed under Maine law.

"Those who discriminate need to learn the impact their actions have on victims and society, not only for the sake of justice, but also because doing so will result in more tolerance in the future," Hoffman said in a written statement. "I'm so impressed by individuals like Ms. Morris who find the courage to speak up when subjected to this type of behavior."

A spokeswoman for Zale Delaware Inc. declined to say whether the company had paid the award.

"We firmly deny the allegations made by the claimant," said Roxane Barry, director of investor relations. "It is our policy not to comment on litigation."

Staff Writer Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@mainetoday.com

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