Former Big 5 employee sues company, saying she was forced to sell gun to 'unsafe' customer

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A former manager at a Downey Big 5 Sporting Goods is suing the business after she said she was forced to sell a customer a shotgun even though she feared for the safety of herself and others. (Shutterstock)

A former manager at a Downey Big 5 Sporting Goods is suing the business after she said she was forced to sell a customer a shotgun even though she feared for the safety of herself and others.

Delilah Rios, who said she worked at the sporting goods store for nearly 10 years, resigned from the business in February 2015 after the incident.

"People always say, 'When you see something, say something.' That was exactly what I was doing," she said. "He just seemed very aggressive and forceful to get his firearm."

In January 2015, a state law passed that required sellers of shotguns and rifles to give customers a written test on gun safety before the purchase, as well as a hands-on demonstration of the gun after the sale. The law also required a 10-day period before the customer could possess the gun they purchased.

Around Jan. 21, a middle-aged man came into the Downey business looking to buy a shotgun. In the lawsuit, Rios claims the man came in near closing time so she told him she would only be able to start the purchase process with the written test.

She said the man agreed and she gave him the test, which he passed. As part of the law, an employee must process a $15 fee with a credit card for the test through the Department of Justice website.

As she was in a back office conducting the transaction, the suit claims the man entered the restricted area. The man grabbed his credit card and ID, saying he was in a hurry and then left the store.

In the suit documents, Rios states she thought his actions were odd, so she notified other managers of the customer and his behavior.

Two days later, the man came back and Rios helped him again. She said she was able to process his written test and that he chose to purchase a 12-gauge shotgun.

But during this interaction, he became angry with her when she tried to tell him to answer questions in a federal form without the assistance of a friend he brought along. She said after she finished the purchase, the customer claimed she had sold him the wrong gun.

According to the lawsuit, she told the man she sold him the gun he wanted, but offered to do an exchange that would require her to reprocess the purchase and it would take about 40 minutes. She said the man stormed out.

Rios said she again notified other managers about the man's behavior. He came in during a day when Rios was off and exchanged the shotgun. After the 10-day period, the man arrived at the store near closing time on Feb. 4 to pick up his gun.

Rios was called to the front of the store where the cashier and customer were so that he could receive his shotgun. Rios told the man she would not be able to give it to him because she would be required to do the hands-on demonstration, but the store was near closing time.

The customer became angry and began cussing and yelling at Rios, according to court documents, and eventually she convinced the customer to leave. The suit states Rios then found unused ammunition that Big 5 did not sell in the area where the customer was. The next morning, she called Big 5 corporate to voice her concerns.

According to the lawsuit, Rios said Big 5's firearms manager was dismissive and said he would talk to the customer about what she had told him, which she believed would worsen the problem.

"I was told multiple times that I wasn't doing what I was supposed to and just to release the firearm to the (customer) to get him out of the way," she said.

The customer eventually came back to the store to pick up his gun, and once he saw Rios, she said he became angry and began berating her. She said he demanded the release of his gun and would not leave until he got it.

The confrontation led to Rios calling the police and the customer doing the same. When authorities arrived, the lawsuit states police sided with Rios, but that Big 5 corporate and the store manager called Rios in an effort to get the customer his gun.

Rios said she refused and the store manager came in to handle the transaction, also providing the customer with a $25 gift card for his "trouble," the document states.

According to the lawsuit, Rios filed a complaint with human resources and then tried to transfer to another store for fear of the customer retaliating, but she was denied. That denial then forced her to resign from the job.

"The lawsuit has to do with them changing their policies and procedures," Rios said.

While the lawsuit doesn't specify an amount, she's seeking damages for lost wages, employment benefits, mental and emotional damages, punitive damages and repayment of legal fees, among other reliefs.

Eyewitness News reached out to Big 5 for comment, but did not hear back.

Rios' attorney released the following statement to Eyewitness News:

We want companies to act responsibly towards their employees as well as the public. This duty is paramount when it comes to sellers of firearms. In this case, Big 5 was more concerned with making a gun sale, than the safety of its employees and the public. Sellers of firearms should follow the rules and allow employees like Delilah, who was a licensed firearm instructor herself, to exercise her good judgment in refusing to release a firearm to a clearly unstable, belligerent, and threatening individual. Instead it chose to pressure and intimidate her, and when she did not relent, had another employee release the gun to this individual, with a $25 gift certificate. If the police have to be called to the scene to monitor the release, maybe you should think twice about whether you should be arming this person. To find more information about the case, and to see a petition to support Ms. Rios, please visit http://hkm.com/big5.

Related Topics:
businesslawsuitgun lawsgunssafetygun safetyDowneyLos Angeles County
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