Bike-related lawsuit accuses REI of retaliation, discrimination

SEATTLE -- A former REI worker who was paralyzed in a crash while riding his REI bike is now suing the Seattle company for later firing him.

A KOMO Problem Solvers investigation revealed problems with several REI bikes that reportedly "broke apart" with riders on board, and now the outdoor gear store is facing a new blot on its reputation.

James Osborne was a high-ranking REI employee working at the company's corporate headquarters in Kent when a midday bike ride in 2008 ended with his bike breaking apart.

Osborne's injuries left him partially paralyzed, though he continued to work at REI as much as he could.

Last August, Osborne settled his product liability lawsuit with his employer and agreed not to discuss the case. But according to a new lawsuit, REI fired Osborne just four months later.

Osborne wasn't the only person to experience catastrophic failure on an REI bike. David Ashmore of Texas went through virtually the same type of frame problem.

"All of a sudden I'm down," Ashmore said. "I'm trying to reach back up and I start listing over to my right, and then I tumbled."

Seattle woman Monica Johnson's REI bike broke at the front fork, leading to a crash that caused a debilitating brain injury. She later died in an unrelated skiing accident.

The families of both Ashmore and Johnson believe REI has not lived up to its promise of integrity.

"Yeah, she felt betrayed, she was very very frustrated and angry and disappointed," said Johnson's brother, Erik Peters.

REI released a written statement and said the company had recalled the bike Johnson was riding, but claimed there was no safety issue with the bikes ridden by Osborne and Ashmore.

"Once I learned that it wasn't just me, it wasn't just Mr. Osborne, but apparently some others out there, yeah, I was a little disappointed in how REI had reacted," Ashmore said.

Osborne is now suing REI again, this time accusing the company of firing him in retaliation for his liability lawsuit and discriminating against him because of his disability.

REI released a Wednesday statement saying the company considers Osborne's lawsuit baseless and that the elimination of his position was due to restructuring.