A former JUUL executive has filed a lawsuit against the vaping company alleging he was terminated after urging the company to issue a recall or at least inform consumers that about a million e-liquid pods distributed by the company he says were contaminated.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by Siddharth Breja, a former senior vice president of global finance for JUUL, came Tuesday, the same day the San Francisco-based vape company announced plans to lay off about 500 employees. It also comes as the number of people who have fallen ill with a vape-related lung illness has crept to 1,604 in recent months, and the number of dead to 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A particular vape brand or ingredient has yet to be identified as the culprit.
Breja, who joined JUUL in May 2018, claims he learned on March 12, 2019, during a meeting among JUUL executives, that about 250,000 e-liquid kits – containing about a million pods – were made with tainted e-liquid. The pods had been shipped to retailers and sold to consumers. Breja’s lawsuit says he urged company executives to issue a recall or at least inform the public of the contamination. Instead, he claims, then-CEO Kevin Burns used profanity to dismiss the notion, and then-chief finance officer Tim Danaher “questioned [Breja’s] financial acumen,” as issuing a recall would cost the company billions of dollars in lost sales.
On March 21, 2019, JUUL fired Breja for allegedly misrepresenting himself as the chief financial officer at Uber, when in fact Breja was the chief financial officer over a division of Uber.
According to the CDC, the first report of vape-related lung injury was reported on March 31, 2019. It would be weeks before the health professionals would see signs of an outbreak. At the time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was also beginning to see an increase of reports of seizures in individuals who reported vaping, most of which involved youth or young adult users.
In September, Burns stepped down as CEO and was replaced by Altria executive K.C. Crosthwaite. On Tuesday, JUUL announced that Danaher was no longer with the company.