Motorola alleged to have withheld information pertaining to potential birth defects from workers.
I receive regular emails from certain bar associations with links to recent appellate court decisions. I clicked on a link to the Ledeaux v. Motorola Inc. decision, which referred to a lawsuit filed by multiple Motorola workers on behalf of their children. The workers are alleging they were exposed to toxic products while at Motorola and their children suffered birth defects as a result. By way of background, the case arrived in the Appellate Court after a trial judge had dismissed the case after deciding plaintiffs simply couldn’t prove their cases.
The Appellate Court decision is lengthy and delves into nuanced discussions involving choice of law; the impact of the exclusivity doctrine found in most Workers’ Compensation statutes and a detailed discussion regarding proximate cause. While interesting from a legal perspective, those discussions bury the lead.
The jaw-dropping take away from the decision involves the appalling disregard Motorola allegedly displayed toward the health of its workers. At multiple manufacturing plants in Arizona and Texas, Motorola had “clean rooms” where semiconductor wafers, microchips and other internal computer components were made. The “clean rooms” were controlled environments designed to prevent contaminants from contacting semiconductor components during the manufacturing process. Certain chemicals used by workers in the “clean rooms” were toxic – and from the allegations made, it appears that Motorola knew they were toxic and didn’t advise their workers. One of the complaints alleges Motorola had studies linking the chemicals to birth defects. Additionally, it is alleged industry associations had circulated warnings to Motorola regarding the use of the chemicals. Finally, it is alleged in one of the complaints that Motorola actually tracked the incidence of birth defects in employee children. Based on these facts, and some other facts the plaintiffs had set forth, the Appellate Court found that the plaintiffs had indeed alleged sufficient facts to demonstrate Motorola had a duty to provide employees with a safe environment AND to warn employees of the risk of birth defects .
Additionally, the Appellate Court was called upon to determine if the plaintiffs could go forward with claims for wilful and wanton misconduct against Motorola. The Appellate Court noted that plainiffs had alleged: 1) Motorola had altered the collection/measurement of chemical levels in the room to show lower exposures; and 2) had failed to comply with standards and regulations to protect the workers and their offsping. Based on those allegations, the Court decided that the plaintiffs had sufficiently set forth facts establishing wilful and wanton negligence. The case will go foward. Hats off to the lawyers representing the workers for appealing the trial judge and getting the case back on track.
These cases are a long way from conclusion but this opinion likely generated significant distress at Motorola HQ