A whistleblower who sued JUUL Labs for allegedly using nondisclosure agreements to gag employees and prevent them from reporting wrongdoing within the company has been given another chance to prove her case after a California federal judge tossed most of her claims.
Marcie Hamilton, who worked as JUUL’s director of program management from April 2018 to March 2019, sued JUUL in June. She alleged the San Francisco-based vape maker “maintains policies and practices that unlawfully prohibit employees from engaging in whistleblowing, seeking new or better work, disclosing information about their wages and working conditions, or otherwise engaging in protected speech,” according to Law 360.
Judge Edward Chen tossed those claims, agreeing that the NDA had a confidentiality provision in it but that it mostly was used for protecting proprietary information. He allowed Ms. Hamilton’s claims of unfair competition and four labor code violations related to a severance agreement JUUL offered her to stand, “finding that they appeared to preemptively waive liability for future claims in violation of California law.”
Since that ruling, Ms. Hamilton says she has acquired copies of policies that show JUUL uses its nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) and confidentiality agreements illegally. Those documents could revive the bulk of her claims against the company and flesh out her accusations that JUUL engages in “other policies and practices” that have the same chilling effect on employees.
Judge Chen said that Ms. Hamilton is permitted to amend her complaint with the additional evidence.
According to Law 360, Ms. Hamilton referenced whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand in her lawsuit. Mr. Wigand took on Big Tobacco in the 1990s, putting himself and his career at great risk. His plight to expose the illegal activities of the tobacco industry nearly bankrupted him and was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated movie The Insider, starring Russell Crowe as Wigand.
“Armed with these illegal NDAs and confidentiality requirements, and in reliance on their terrorizing effect, powerful employers, often with the help of prominent law firms, threaten employees with termination, financial ruin and more if they dare disclose corporate wrongdoing or engage in other relevant protected conduct,” her lawsuit asserts, according to Law 360.
If you have any questions about whether you qualify as a whistleblower, contact one of the lawyers on our firm’s Whistleblower Litigation Team for a free and confidential evaluation of your claim. Beasley Allen lawyers Larry Golston, Lance Gould, Paul Evans, Leslie Pescia, Leon Hampton, Tyner Helms and Lauren Miles are working in this area of law known as “qui tam” cases. A lawyer on the team will be glad to discuss the potential claim with you either in person or by phone.
Beasley Allen lawyers Joseph VanZandt and Sydney Everett, together with Mass Torts Section Head Andy Birchfield, are currently representing several individuals who are suing the top U.S. vape maker JUUL for the negative impact its products have had on their lives. Recognizing the critical threat to young people ensnared by nicotine addiction, and its effect on our nation’s educational system, our firm has also joined other nationally recognized law firms to represent school districts and public entities across the country in the fight to stop the school vaping crisis.