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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

At Least They Comped the Fish

HOUSTON (CN) - A Latino customer claims a felon Costco hired to hand out cake samples punched him repeatedly in the mouth and screamed racial slurs at him while Costco did "next to nothing" to help him, but "comped the salmon," one of the groceries he bought, "in a callous attempt to placate (his) family."

Elmer Romero sued Costco and Larry Bush, on his own behalf and for his sons, who are 6 and 9, in Harris County Court.

Romero says he took his sons to a Costco Wholesale Store in Houston to pick up some "weekend groceries" after work on June 17 last year.

"As the Romero family walked through the produce section, Mr. Romero noticed a bakery table with some cake samples," the complaint states. "As many Costco customers do, Mr. Romero took one sample and began moving away to continue shopping.

"Mr. Romero's sons wanted to sample the cake, so he and his sons returned to the display. Samuel and Daniel each took a sample, and Mr. Romero took another sample for himself.

"At that point, the cake sampler, who by information and belief is Larry Bush, asserted that Mr. Romero should buy the whole cake. When Mr. Romero responded that he had tasted it again because he was not sure if he wanted to purchase it, Bush began insulting Romero in front of his children, gesticulating wildly and shouting racial slurs and curse words at Mr. Romero.

"Despite being cursed at and demeaned regarding his race, Mr. Romero responded only that he thought he deserved an apology for Bush's rudeness. However, instead of recognizing that he had conducted himself in a manner ill-fitting a retail employee, Bush exploded, repeatedly striking Mr. Romero in the face in front of his terrified children.

"Bush punched Mr. Romero in the face at least four times, causing Mr. Romero to bleed from the mouth. Because Bush is significantly taller and larger than Mr. Romero, Mr. Romero was unable to defend himself.

"Another Costco employee finally arrived, pulling Mr. Romero into the bakery kitchen and away from his enraged assailant. The employee called Costco's store manager."

Romero says Costco pulled him away from his kids into the bakery kitchen, leaving the children " alone - scared, confused, and distraught."

Romero says that after he "regained his bearings, Costco did next to nothing to assist Mr. Romero and his family, instead sweeping the beating under the rug. Costco claimed it could not give Mr. Romero the name of his assailant, did not offer Mr. Romero first aid, and did not bring over any security personnel. Costco didn't even pick up the phone to call the police to report the assault of a patron on its premises. Instead, Costco merely had one of its employees follow Mr. Romero around the store until he checked out. To demonstrate Costco's concern about what happened to Mr. Romero and his children, Costco comped the salmon, one of Mr. Romero's six grocery items, in a callous attempt to placate the Romero family."

Romero says he later learned that "Larry Bush was a felon with a history of violence, who had been convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison."

The complaint continues: "A man with Bush's record should never have been entrusted in a setting in which he would routinely interact with a high volume of customers, including children, on a regular basis. A simple background check would have revealed Bush's criminal past, his propensity for violence, and the danger he likely posed to patrons. Accordingly, this assault could have been avoided completely had CDS and Costco performed an adequate background check and had Costco exercised appropriate supervision regarding the retention and oversight of those working on its premises."

Romero says the attacked bruised his face and neck, and he "developed a harmful rash in the area of the bruising, requiring him to obtain medical services."

He adds: "Because Costco did nothing to assist Mr. Romero in documenting the event or providing medical care after the assault, Mr. Romero had to take time off work to go the police station, meet with an officer, and file a report. Mr. Romero had to miss even more work to treat his injuries. Because of the beating that his children witnessed, Mr. Romero does not feel safe returning to Costco with his family."

He seeks damages for negligent hiring and supervision, premises liability, assault and vicarious liability.

He is represented by John Black with Reynolds, Frizzell, Black, Doyle, Allen & Oldham.

Costco is the largest chain of membership warehouse stores in the United States.

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