The People Who Sued Big Corporations and Won
Man Wins Big Over Roundup
Dewayne Johnson sued Monsanto, an American agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation, and won. He was awarded $289 million in November of 2018 in this trial but agreed to take a reduced compensation of $78 million.
Johnson was working as a groundskeeper in the school district in Benicia, a city in Solano County, north-east of San Francisco. Part of his job was keeping the school area weed free by spraying hundreds of gallons of Roundup, Monsanto’s (in)famous weed killer.
It Kills More Than Just Weeds
It was 2014 when Johnson became ill and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer. He claimed that it was the Roundup that gave him the terminal disease and sued Monsanto and its parent company for “lost income, pain and suffering.”
After treatment with chemotherapy and other medications, the doctors’ prognosis was very pessimistic. They said he would be lucky if he lived long enough to testify in court. Not only did he testify, he won.
Standing Up for the Rights of Same-Sex Couples
Justice and equality for all is not just an empty phrase, but the fundamental principle of every democratic society. When that principle is violated, justice must be sought in court. Guided by this noble idea and love for her late wife, Edith Windsor has sued The United States of America.
Mrs. Windsor was widowed by her wife Thea Clara Spyer, in 2009, two years after being legally married in Canada and decades of a shared life. Unfortunately, their marriage was not recognized by federal law. despite it being legal in New York state, where they res. The Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, was enacted in 1996, and it stated that the terms “marriage” and “spouse” could refer only to a man and a woman.
America's Supreme Court Agreed
Even though Edith Windsor was the only successor to her late wife’s property and the sole executor of her will, she was charged $363,000 which she had to pay for taxes just because their marriage wasn’t recognized. Had it been, that tax bill would never have been levied due to a marriage exemption.
Windsor was determined to challenge the authorities and claimed that DOMA is unconstitutional. When the case finally made it to the Supreme Court following two years of Windsor’s tireless legal battles, the court ruled that DOMA was discriminatory and unfair to same-sex couples.
Battling Bank of America
It was the peak of the financial and mortgage crisis when Warren Nyerges and his wife Maureen Collier decided to buy a house in Florida, in 2009. They used the services of Bank of America for purchasing their new home in Naples, a city on Florida’s Paradise Coast.
The two-bedroom house was paid for with $165,000 in cash, with no need for a mortgage anywhere along the way. The whole transaction seemed relatively stress-free, at least until Bank of America began foreclosure actions on thei already-paid-for home for absolutely no reason.
The Bank Loses the Case
The legal fees the lawful owners of the house, Nyerges and Collier, had to pay for defending their right to keep their own home was $2,500.
Eventually, Bank of America realized that there was a mistake in this process and withdrew the case, but refused to refund any legal fees to their incurred by the Florida couple.
Only after lawyers intervened did Bank of America finally agree to pay compensation of just over $5,000, but they never admitted to any wrongdoing on their part.
Taking the Fight to the Skies
Many flight passengers using a European airliner are unaware of the fact that they are entitled to compensation in the case of a delayed or canceled flight flying in European airspace. But even worse, those who are often have to fight in court for their refunds and settlements, due to the airlines’ refusals to pay based on the same industry-wide excuse: “exceptional circumstances.”
The law in Europe allows “the damaged party” (in other words, the ticket holder) compensation of a minimum of €250 (about $280 U.S.), but the airlines always look for a way out from paying a cent in these situations. Dr. Friederike Wallentin-Hermann didn’t allow that to happen in her case.
The Airlines Have to Pay Up
Wallentin-Hermann and her family booked three tickets for their holiday in southeast Italy. Their plan was to travel from Vienna to Brindisi via Rome using Italy-based airline Alitalia.
Unfortunately, the first of their two flights were canceled on extremely short notice, so the family had no choice but to take a roundabout route on Austrian Airlines and cut 4 hours from their vacation time.
Although Wallentin-Hermann was fully entitled to compensation, she had to fight Alitalia in court to get it. There now exists “European Court case of Wallentin-Hermann v Alitalia” that passengers in the same situation can cite when filing for an owed pay-out.
Liebeck Versus the Golden Arches
One of the most famous “people vs. corporations” lawsuits of all time is the Stella Liebeck vs. McDonald’s case that occurred in 1992.
79-year-old Liebeck purchased a cup of coffee at a McDonald’s drive-thru in Albuquerque, New Mexico. When she tried to remove the lid and put cream in her beverage she spilled hot coffee in her lap, suffering third-degree burns as a result.
Her hospital expenses were $18,000, so Mrs. Liebeck asked McDonald’s for $20,000 to cover costs incurred by her during aneight-day-long hospital stay.
Too-Hot Coffee Means a Big Settlement
The American fast food company agreed to pay, but only $800, which was not only insufficient to cover the costs of her hospital treatment but kind of insulting too.
After attempts to get a decent settlement with the world’s largest chain of fast food restaurants failed, Mrs. Liebeck had no other option but to file a suit against McDonald’s.
The case went to court and it was ruled that the company must pay Liebeck $160,000 for her injuries and an additional $2.7 million in punitive damages.
The Smoking Gun
Although it has been common knowledge for decades that smoking seriously endangers the health of smokers and those around them, it wasn’t until 1965 that tobacco companies were required by law to warn consumers of the health risks associated with smoking.
With those labels in place, American courts stil ruled in favor of Cynthia Robinson against R.J. Reynolds. Mrs. Robinson decided to sue this major player in the tobacco industry for not sufficiently warning people of the risks of smoking after her husband, Michael Johnson, passed away from lung cancer at the age of 36.
Johnson was a hardcore, three-packs-a-day smoker for over twenty years. He started smoking when he was only 13 years of age, and even though he tried to break this nasty habit his nicotine addiction always won out.
Cigarette Manufacturers Are Held Responsible
It was 1995 when Michael was diagnosed with lung cancer and lived for ten months in pain before he passed away in 1996. Cynthia Robinson never recovered from her loss and decided to go after R.J. Reynolds 10 years later in court, holding them responsible for her husband’s death.
Robinson was awarded the staggering amount of $23.6 billion, and as a result tobacco companies today have some extra incentive to be crystal-clear with large warnings on their packaging of the dangers of nicotine and smoking.
Discrimination in the Workplace
Discrimination-related lawsuits against big companies have brought public attention to some of the most challenging issues faced by minority employees who are subjected to indignities and insults in the workplace.
One company that has been on multiple occasion for racial discrimination is Southern California Edison, an anchor of Edison International. The latest legal proceedings happened in 2010 when a group of African American workers filed a class action suit against the compan.
A Payment Rewarded and Diversity Training Initiated
The workers’ accusations included being overlooked for job promotions, unfair pay practices, being denied pay raises, biased job assignments, as well as the company “not upholding two consent decrees stemming from class action discrimination suits filed against Southern California Edison in 1974 and 1994.”
This lawsuit halso brought to the forefront that the number of African American employees at Southern California Edison plummeted 40 percent since the company’s last discrimination lawsuit.
As a result of the 1994 suit, workers were awarded $11 million (U.S.) and the company was ordered to initiate a plan for diversity training.
Driving for Walmart Denied
Walmart Inc, one of the most famous multinational retail corporations, is not unfamiliar with discrimination lawsuits initiated and/or filed by their minority workers.
About 4,500 African American truck drivers joined together and filed a lawsuit against Walmart. All of them unsuccessfully applied for jobs with the company between 2001 and 2008. This encouraged them to file a class action suit against the business accusing it of racial discrimination an turning down certain applicants “in disproportionate numbers.”
Walmart's History of Discrimination Has Been Costly
Not surprisingly, Walmart denied the accusations and any other wrongdoing whatsoever but still agreed to a settlement of $17.5 million (U.S.).
This lawsuit was hardly the only one Walmart has had to face in the past couple of decades. Since the 1990s there have been several dozen discrimination lawsuits against the company, including the one from 2010 when a group of Colorado-based West African employees sued Walmart because they were reportedly let go by their supervisors so that local workers could hav their jobs.
Equality Demanded at Abercrombie & Fitch
Abercrombie & Fitch, an American retailer company, was accused of racial discrimination by their Latino American, African American and Asian American workers back in 2003.
Latino and Asian employees were particularly offended by the company for pointing them to jobs primarily in stock rooms, “hidden away” from customers. They claimed that Abercrombie & Fitch didn’t want them on the sales floor because the company preferred “classically American” looking employees to work with the public.
The Company is Held Accountable
The allegations made by the minority employees against Abercrombie & Fitch and their subsequent lawsuit forced the company to agree to a $50 million (U.S.) settlement.
This lawsuit also served as a warning to other companies, just as Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawyer, Eric Drieband, made clear following the suit’s conclusio.
“The retail industry and other industries need to know that businesses cannot discriminate against individuals under the auspice of a marketing strategy or a particular ‘look.’ Race and sex discrimination in employment are unlawful.”
Denny's Gets Sued by Thousands
It’s not only employees who claim that certain companies do nothing to prevent racial discrimination. For years leading up to Federal class-action lawsuits finally settled in 1994, the Denny’s restaurant chain had been repeatedly accused of racial bias when serving African American customers.
Lawyers from the United States Justice Department handled more than 4,300 claims filed against Denny’s and its 1,500 restaurants. At the time of the lawsuit, approximately 10 percent of Denny’s diners were African American.
The Restaurant Chain Has to Pay Millions
In awarding a $54.4 million settlement, the court was presented with several instances where Denny’s mistreated diners because of their skin color. This included several members of then-president Bill Clinton’s Secret Service team being forced to wait for a table while white agents from the same team were immediately sat and served.
It also heard instances where restaurant managers underwent training sessions on how to deal with a scenario given the code word ‘blackout’ by the company — having an ‘excessive’ number of African American diners in the restaurant at the same time.
General Electric is Accused of Racism
In 2010, 6 African American plaintiffs in Monroe, Pennsylvania, filed suit against General Electric alleging their GE supervisor repeatedly subjected them to racial slurs (dozens in a week, according to some) and creating a hostile work environment for them.
The suit also claimed that the supervisor, Lynn Dyer, refused the workers bathroom breaks and overtime pay. It also stated that proper medical treatment was not given for injuries suffered on the job, including one plaintiff who suffered third-degree burns and was fired by Dyer, along with another employee, for attempting to administer first aid.
A Million-Dollar Payout
A day before the suit was scheduled to be heard in court, GE settled with the plaintiffs for $3 million (U.S.). As part of the settlement, all of the plaintiffs had to sign confidentiality agreements barring them from discussing any details of the payout or the allegations they had originally made.
General Electric admitted no wrongdoing in the case, but that did not stop lawyer Joshua Friedman, who represented the workers, from being extremely blunt about the GE supervisor’s behavior. “Dyer was just a very ugly racist. For the most part, he could get away with saying the most unbelievably racist things right to their faces.”
Erin Brockovich Gets the Legal Ball Rolling
One of the most memorable lawsuits against a major company involves case spearheaded by a law clerk with no legal training, Erin Brockovich, against Pacific Gas and Electric. Part of its renown comes from this case being the inspiration for the 2000 Oscar-winning film, “Erin Brockovich,” directed by Steven Soderbergh.
It was 1993 when Brockovich and the firm that employed her, Masry & Vititoe, accused Pacific Gas and Electric of polluting drinking water in Hinkley, a small town in California.
Source: Erin Brockovich
Fighting for an Entire Town
Brockovich alleged that the high rates of cancer amongst the people of Hinkley were directly linked to water contamination caused by hazardous anti-corrosion chemicals used in gas pipelines built by PG&E.
Even though Brockovich herself didn’t have any previous legal training, she was instrumental in the winning of the case. The $333 million (U.S.) settlement she and the Masry & Vititoe team won, the largest payout for a lawsuit of its kind in American history,was distributed to 648 Hinkley residents.
Victory for the Town of Hinkley
For her role in the legal victory, Brockovich received a $2.5 million bonus. She was widely recognized as a legal crusader, not only in the States but across the globe.
The case also elevated her into the roles of consumer advocate and author. She was also featured in “Makers,” the PBS documentary series and her autobiography, “Take It From Me: Life’s a Struggle But You Can Win,” made it to The New York Times bestseller list in 2001.