A former top executive of Juul is claiming the e-cigarette company sold at least 1 million contaminated mint-flavored nicotine pods they refused to recall when made aware of the issue, a lawsuit alleges.
Siddharth Breja, former senior vice president for global finance at Juul, said he was fired on March 21 for raising concerns with top executives about the shipment of contaminated and expired pods, as well as other conduct described as unsafe and that “has jeopardized and continues to jeopardize public health and safety and the lives of millions of consumers, many of them children and teens,” according to a lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California on Tuesday.
Breja detailed a culture at the company of indifference to safety and intimidation to perceived insolence among superiors, writing leaders at Juul in earlier 2019 “began to increase pressure on the supply chain team and its suppliers … to produce more mint-flavored pods in order to make up for sales losses” experienced after the withdrawal of flavored pods.
“This compromised the quality control measures, as the focus was on producing and selling mint-flavored pods at any cost, even when the product turned out not to be safe,” the suit said.
After protesting the resale of “old, expired product,” Breja claimed he suggested in February that Juul should display an expiration date, “best by” date or at the very least, a date of manufacture, on its products’ packaging.
Then-chief executive Kevin Burns allegedly dismissed the suggestion by slamming the company's customers, saying, “Half our customers are drunk and vaping like mo-fo’s, who the f*** is going to notice the quality of our pods.”
Breja also said he suggested in March recalling contaminated pods and was met with a scolding.
During an executive meeting on March 21, Breja says he learned that some batches of mint e-liquid had been found to be contaminated, and that approximately 250,000 mint refill kits — or the equivalent of 1 million pods — had been manufactured with the contaminated e-liquid, shipped to retailers and sold to customers.
“This public safety issue deeply concerned Mr. Breja, as he was first and foremost concerned about public welfare, especially in the wake of consumers recently having reported suffering seizures due to the use of JUUL’s products,” the suit alleged.
Juul allegedly refused to issue a product recall or issue a public health safety notice to consumers, decisions which Breja said he protested, as he “believed that not doing so was not only illegal and an ethical violation, but also exposed the Company and its investors to a very high risk,” the lawsuit said.
In response, Juul’s CFO at the time, Tim Danaher, allegedly questioned Breja’s financial acumen, claiming that a recall would harm Juul’s sales and then-$38 billion valuation.
“In response to Mr. Breja’s concerns that the Company was violating the law, as well as ethical rules, and exposing the company to risk, Mr. Danaher told Mr. Breja that he should remember his loyalty to JUUL,” according to the lawsuit.
Breja said he was fired the next week.
He said he was told he was being let go because he had misrepresented himself as the chief financial officer at Uber, where he had previously been employed. Breja said that he never made that claim and had accurately stated that he was the chief financial officer of a division of Uber.
Juul’s claim is “preposterous” and “intentionally invented” to hurt Breja’s reputation and employment prospects, the lawsuit alleged.
In a statement to InsideEdition.com, a Juul Labs spokesperson said: “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.”
Breja’s lawsuit was filed the same day that Juul confirmed its plan to lay off about 500 people by the end of 2019. The company will lay off staffers in some departments and consolidate others, the Wall Street Journal first reported.
Four executives’ departures were also announced, including Danaher.
Burns stepped down from Juul last month. He told "CBS This Morning" co-host Tony Dokoupil in August the company's products are safe.
"People say Juul is toxic. Is it?" Dokoupil asked.
"The product or the company?" Burns said.
"Interesting that you would ask. The product?" Dokoupil responded.
"We toxicology test all of our products," Burns said.
Neither Burns nor Danaher responded to InsideEdition.com’s requests for comment.