Two men who report being verbally harassed and physically threatened at a Lowe’s home improvement store in Riverside, Calif. have been granted temporary restraining orders against the employees who allegedly attacked them. Jeremy Smythe, 29, and Daniel Soto, 35, have requested video evidence from Lowe’s of the incident and are considering a civil case against the store.
Smythe and Soto, who are domestic partners, went to the Lowe’s at 9851 Magnolia Ave. on June 19 to replace a leaf blower that wasn’t working properly. Smythe says he sent Soto and their son to the garden center toward the back of the store to look at a product while he approached the customer service counter.
When he explained the problem with the leaf blower, Smythe says, the cashier at the counter retorted with harsh words.
“He says, ‘Just so you know, if you’d learn to read the [expletive] directions you’d know you’d have to charge it for 12 hours.’ I was kind of shocked.”
Smythe, who co-owns a business with Soto, says he told the man not to speak to him that way. The cashier allegedly responded with gay slurs and physical threats against Smythe, who immediately asked for the store manager. An assistant manager tried to pull Smythe aside, he says, but instead had to physically restrain the cashier from launching himself at Smythe.
Soto and their son walked over and the cashier walked away, still threatening Smythe.
According to Smythe, “He rips off his vest and says, ‘[Expletive] you, [gay slur]. I have your address, I know where you live.”
Smythe says he turned to the assistant manager and asked, “What kind of animals do you have working here?” Another employee overheard and also allegedly tried to throw himself at Smythe. He had to be physically restrained and pulled into an office, Smythe says.
The store manager was away, so Smythe and Soto contacted the Lowe’s district manager to report the incident.
“I spoke to the district manager on the spot,” Smythe says. “All he could say was, ‘Wow.’”
They contacted their attorney, Linda Roberts-Ross, two days later. Smythe and Soto filed a police report and were granted temporary restraining orders against the two men. They will return to court on August 8 for permanent restraining orders, though they may take further action.
“We have not ruled out a civil case against Lowe’s yet,” Smythe says.
Lowe’s security cameras captured footage of the incident, but Lowe’s has not agreed to release the video to Smythe, Soto and Roberts-Ross. Should Lowe’s release the tape, a representative told Smythe, Soto and Roberts-Ross, they will do so with the stipulation that it cannot be released to media. Smythe suggests Lowe's knows its employees were in the wrong.
“If the video shows we were the aggressors, why wouldn’t Lowe’s say, ‘Show the tape’? It’s going to show what we’ve been saying all along,” Smythe says.
He added that he and Soto are still working with Lowe’s to resolve the incident.
“This is for everyone who goes into Lowe’s who is gay,” Smythe says. “This cannot happen to people. If they’re going to have employees working in their store, there need to be policies in place to ensure they do not mistreat same-sex couples.”
The Lowe’s store manager, reached by phone, declined to comment.