Johnson’s Baby Powder is squeezed from its container to illustrate the product, in Philadelphia, Monday, April 19, 2010. Johnson & Johnson, the world’s biggest maker of health care products may be on the mend, reporting a slight increase in profit on Tuesday, April 20, after the recession dragged results down last year. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

(BUSINESS WIRE) — Nationally renowned civil rights and personal injury attorneys Ben Crump of Ben Crump Law and Diandra “Fu” Debrosse Zimmermann of DiCello Levitt Gutzler are calling on the Congressional Black Caucus to denounce Johnson & Johnson’s alleged exploitation of Black Americans and to close a legal loophole that allows the company to avoid properly compensating thousands of Black women who suffered ovarian cancer from the use of Johnson & Johnson’s powder products.

“We are shocked that Johnson & Johnson, a company that was once one of the most trusted brands in America, would knowingly inflict physical, psychological, and financial harm on Black Americans not once, but three times,” Crump said. “First, they used Black inmates as guinea pigs to test the effects of their product compared to asbestos. Then, knowing the dangers, they created a marketing campaign that made generations of Black women feel dirty if they didn’t use their powder products, raising their risk of ovarian cancer. And, after countless Black women battled cancer and died, Johnson & Johnson used a cynical legal maneuver to avoid having to compensate them or their families. This is shameful and reveals Johnson & Johnson’s utter lack of concern for Black lives.”

In a letter to the caucus, Crump and Debrosse Zimmermann push for passage of the Nondebtor Release Prohibition Act of 2021 to ensure that corporations that profit at the expense of those harmed by their products are held responsible for their actions. The letter cites Johnson & Johnson’s shameful attempt to evade its liabilities arising from marketing carcinogenic products to Black women by shifting those liabilities into a shell company and then declaring bankruptcy for that company, a legal maneuver known as the “Texas Two Step.” This effectively stripped grievously injured Americans of their day in court to shield Johnson & Johnson’s enormous assets.

lawsuit filed by Attorney Crump in cooperation with the National Council of Negro Women alleges that African American women were targeted by Johnson & Johnson for sales of its Baby Powder and Shower to Shower (“Powder Products”), despite Johnson & Johnson’s knowledge that the main substance of these products is talc containing asbestos—a carcinogen that causes ovarian cancer. The complaint states, “We now know these products are defective, dangerous to human health, unfit and unsuitable to be advertised, marketed, and sold in the United States, and lack proper warnings associated with their use.”

More recently, details have emerged about how Johnson & Johnson has known for decades that its Powder Products were grossly defective and inhumanely dangerous. By 1968, Johnson & Johnson knew of the harmful presence of asbestos in its Powder Products through a series of coercive experiments on Black male prison inmates that the company funded. In one study alone, 50 healthy prison inmates, 44 of whom were Black, were injected with tremolite and chrysotile asbestos or had direct placement of talc on their skin, leaving them with “granulomas,” “white scars,” and no reparations.

Crump and Debrosse Zimmermann warn that Johnson & Johnson’s alleged abuse of the federal bankruptcy laws for its own economic advantage will pave the way for other corporations to shirk responsibility for the wrongs they have committed, unless Congress intervenes, stating, “If nothing is done to prevent Johnson & Johnson’s maneuver from being replicated, any corporation that brought a defective, harmful product to market could limit its liability in this way.”

Crump and Debrosse Zimmermann are co-founders of Shades of Mass, an organization dedicated to increasing the involvement of attorneys of color in leadership roles in mass tort cases.

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