A former Juul executive has filed a lawsuit that says the company knowingly shipped out over 1 million contaminated vaping pods, and did not issue a recall or alert consumers to the potential risk.
Siddharth Breja, the former senior vice president of global finance at Juul, is now suing the company over his firing, claiming that it was because of his decision to speak up internally against the decision to send out the contaminated pods.
He claims that on March 12, Juul executives were informed that a batch of mint e-liquid was contaminated, though the lawsuit does not say what the contaminate was. Breja said he “protested Juul’s refusal to issue a product recall for the contaminated pods, or at a minimum issue a public health and safety notice to consumers,” the lawsuit states, and that he was fired shortly after, on March 21.
Breja also alleges in the lawsuit, first reported by Buzzfeed, that in a separate incident, Juul planned to sell pods that were close to a year old. He says he was vocally against the plan, and lobbied then-CEO Kevin Burns to add some kind of expiration date on the packaging if they were going to sell the pods.
But, according to Breja, Burns pushed back.
“Half our customers are drunk and vaping like mo-fos, who the f— is going to notice the quality of our pods,” Burns allegedly said in response.
Juul denies these claims and says in a statement shared with PEOPLE that Breja, who worked for Juul from May 2018 to March 2019, was fired based on his job performance.
“Mr. Breja’s claims are baseless. He was terminated in March 2019 because he failed to demonstrate the leadership qualities needed in his role. The allegations concerning safety issues with Juul products are equally meritless, and we already investigated the underlying manufacturing issue and determined the product met all applicable specifications. The company will vigorously defend this lawsuit.”
Burns also denies that he said what Breja claims.
“I never said this, or anything remotely close to this, period,” he said in a statement shared with PEOPLE. “As CEO, I had the company make huge investments in product quality, and the facts will show this claim is absolutely false and pure fiction.“
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In August, before he was replaced as CEO, Burns said the rise in cases of vaping-related lung illnesses are “worrisome,” but that Juul has no plans to remove their products from shelves unless they know that they are causing health issues.
“If there was any indication that there was an adverse health problem related to our product, I think we’d take very swift actions associated with it,” Burns said on CBS This Morning.
Juul has been struggling as cases of vaping-related lung illnesses, or EVALI, have soared. As the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration are investigating the cause of 1,604 reported cases of EVALI across the U.S., and 34 deaths, legislators are considering a ban on flavored e-cigarettes, one of Juul’s biggest products. On Tuesday, Juul announced that it will cut about 500 jobs by the end of the year, and that four of their top executives are leaving the company.