John Gilson Jr. had just finished his last delivery for Domino's Pizza early Friday morning in Woodlawn, just west of Baltimore, when he was accosted by two youths. One held a knife to Gilson's shoulder and ordered, "Give me everything you have," he recalled.
Gilson fought back. "I kind of said a bad word and smacked the knife out of his hand, he turned, I smacked him and broke his nose. I turned around to the other gentleman and kicked him in the stomach," said the 18-year-old, 6-foot-3 Gilson. Eventually, he said, the pair turned and ran.
The next day, Gilson was fired, both a victim of a recent rash of robberies of pizza deliverers in the Washington-Baltimore area and a casualty of the pizza chain's policy against resisting robbers.
Policy or not, the firing -- and ensuing publicity about Gilson's plight -- prompted Domino's to fly its public relations consultant from Detroit to Baltimore yesterday afternoon. The company said it would be issuing a statement on the incident today.
"I understand why I was fired, because it was against company rules," Gilson said.
But, said Gilson, who had worked part-time delivering pizzas for Domino's Catonsville store since it opened seven months ago, "I wasn't protecting the money, I was protecting my own hide . . . . I might turn my back and get sliced."
In addition, he said, "The whole time I was thinking if he wants everything, that means everything" -- not just the $50 in pizza money but also Gilson's 1984 Mazda truck, and about $200 in cash he had taken out of the bank to buy furniture with his fiancee.
"What's mine, I work hard for, and I don't want to give it up to anybody," said Gilson, who worked 15 hours weekly delivering Domino's pizza after finishing his full-time job as a junior draftsman for a Baltimore engineering firm.
While the training session before he started work at Domino's stressed the importance of not resisting if assaulted on the job, Gilson said, "They just said give up willingly. They didn't say if you didn't, you'd get fired."
Joyce P. White, who owns the Domino's franchise for the Catonsville store, did not return repeated telephone calls yesterday. But Cindy Julius, a spokeswoman for the nationwide, 1,870-store chain, said that the firing of Gilson was in line with corporate policy at Domino's, the nation's largest pizza-delivery company.
"It is policy, and when it is policy, it does have to be done," she said. "It may sound a little hard and everything, but it is company policy."
The "don't resist" rule, she said, has been "just about the first thing" employes are taught in training sessions since a dramatic increase in assaults on deliverers started about three years ago.
Simply reminding a driver who had violated the policy, she said, is not enough to protect employes or bystanders who might be injured in an altercation, she said.
"Then it would give them the employe another chance," Julius said. "They could be hurt themselves, they could hurt anybody around them."
The Gilson assault is part of a wave of attacks on pizza deliverers in the Baltimore area in recent months. Baltimore County police said that there have been about 20 robberies, mostly by juveniles, since November. In Baltimore city there have been seven such attacks this year, including a Feb. 22 incident in which a delivery man for Rapid Pizza was shot and killed when he struggled over $43 with a pair of assailants.
In Fairfax County, there have been 11 robberies of pizza delivery people since Feb. 3, including eight assaults by a ski-masked gunman on drivers for a six-week-old Domino's Pizza in the Mount Vernon area. The most recent holdup occurred last night in the 8500 block of Washington Avenue
Managers of local pizza parlors with delivery service said they generally direct their drivers not to resist if attacked or robbed, but they do not automatically fire employes who break that rule.
Gilson, meanwhile, is scheduled to meet with storeowner White tomorrow to discuss the possibility of being reinstated, which he said "looks good." But simply being rehired, said Gilson, is not enough. "I lost a lot of money from work over the weekend," he noted. "I'm in the process of buying a house, and I need all the money I can get."