January 8, 2020 Category: Sexual Harassment
Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are battery-operated devices that are used to inhale an aerosol-filled pod. These pods usually contain nicotine but they don’t have to. They may only contain a flavor or other chemicals. They are also known as vapes, e-cigs, hookas, vape pens, e-vaporizers, or electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS).
As of 2019, Juul, an e-cigarette company, accounted for over 70% of sales for all e-cigarettes in the U.S. With this success comes a lot of notoriety. The company has faced backlash for its marketing practices, ease of access to minors, and its product safety.
Even more recently, the company has faced human resources issues. The latest lawsuit against the company claims the company retaliated against a former employee for reporting sexual harassment. This case is one only one of the several lawsuits that have been filed against Juul in the past year.
Former Juul supply chain manager Kai Yin “Carrie” Chuang filed a sexual harassment, retaliation, and wrongful termination lawsuit against Juul. She claimed that three male co-workers made several separate unwanted sexual advances. They also made suggestive comments, touched her inappropriately, and, in one instance, asked her to sleep with one of them. She turned down this offer.
Ms. Chuang claims that she reported these incidents to several executives and managers of the company at different times. The company did not take any action regarding her complaints. Instead, Ms. Chuang claims that the company retaliated against her by spreading false rumors that she had accepted bribes and been in a sexual relationship with a vendor.
She was fired in December 2018. Her termination was due to her allegedly stealing company data. In her complaint, she denies this charge and further alleges that she was falsely imprisoned by the company.
During her termination meeting with a senior human resources director, she was told she was not allowed to leave the building when she attempted to go to her car after being fired.
Other Juul Lawsuits
Former senior vice president of global finance Siddharth Breja recently filed his own retaliation lawsuit against Juul earlier in 2019. He claims that he raised concerns that a shipment of e-cigarette pods was contaminated. Instead of issuing a recall or investigating the matter, the company fired him.
In October 2019, a mother filed a wrongful death claim against the company on behalf of her son. This lawsuit is the first in the nation to attempt to make an e-cigarette company liable for the death of a consumer. The suit claims that the son tried vaping and instantly became addicted. He then developed breathing problems and was found unresponsive in 2018. He later died.
In November 2019, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that the state was filing a lawsuit against Juul. The state alleges that Juul used deceptive marketing practices and failed to warn consumers that the pods contained nicotine.
Juul further deceived customers by claiming the e-cigarettes were a safer alternative to regular cigarettes. Finally, the state alleges that Juul illegally sold its products to minors both in-person and online through third-party sellers.
Five Bay Area schools also filed separate lawsuits against Juul in December 2019. These suits claim that the company specifically and illegally targeted minor customers who were under the age of 18. The school districts are seeking damages for this false marketing. School districts in Kansas and Missouri have also filed similar suits.
Why This Matters
Ms. Chuang’s sexual harassment, retaliation, and wrongful termination suit is just one claim against the company. As Juul comes under heightened security, more and more allegations are being made including other retaliation claims, wrongful death, deceptive marketing, and targeting minors illegally.
These cases matter because it shows that Juul is having both internal and external problems. Ms. Chuang’s sexual harassment claims were allegedly ignored by company human resources.
On top of that, she further claims that she was retaliated against, held against her will, and had false rumors and allegations made against her. Additional retaliation claims from another former employee show that this issue may be systematic.
Externally, the company is facing lawsuits regarding how it markets and to whom it sells its products. There have been some government policies aimed at combatting these issues. The tobacco purchasing age was recently raised from 18 to 21 and the federal government banned some popular vaping flavors. Both of these changes are aimed to protect consumers, but they will also end up making sales more difficult for Juul.