Johnson & Johnson's CEO Resigns Amidst The Continuing Baby Powder Cancer Public Relations Nightmare
An avalanche of negative publicity surround the CEO's handling of the Johnson's Baby Powder cancer scandal may have left no choice other than to resign
Wednesday, August 25, 2021 - Alex Gorsky, the chairman of the Board and CEO of Johnson & Johnson will step down and relinquish his role to Joaquin Duato, currently vice chairman of the company's executive committee, first thing in 2022, citing family health reasons. Gorsky will remain with the company in a diminished advisory capacity. The move could be considered a demotion and punishment for his mishandling of the public relations nightmare that occurred under his watch. The company lost its most iconic product, and one of America's all-time most trusted institutions, Johnson's Baby Powder, when the Food and Drug Administration finally, after more than half a century of looking the other way, decided to hire an independent microscope testing lab to test Johnson's Baby Powder for asbestos. The tests came back positive and Johnson & Johnson was forced to recall 30,000 bottles of the run of product that the contaminated baby powder came from. Johnson & Johnson eventually discontinued selling Johnson's Baby Powder in all of North America. Thousands of women with ovarian cancer are suing Johnson & Johnson for failing to warn them of the Johnsons Baby Powder cancer risks.
Under Gorsky's decade-long tenure, Johnson & Johnson lost more than a dozen talcum powder cancer lawsuits and must pay billions of dollars in punitive damages for its "reprehensible corporate behavior," according to a Missouri appeals court judge. Twenty-two women with ovarian cancer sued the company and won $4.2 billion, the largest punitive damages award in the company's history. The jury award was cut in half on administrative grounds on appeal, but the verdict was upheld. The US Supreme Court failed to hear the case in its final appeal, and the company now must pay $2.1 billion. The company also paid $100 million to satisfy 1000 of the more than 34,500 ovarian cancer and mesothelioma lawsuits currently pending against them.
Gorsky's demotion comes when Johnson & Johnson is reeling from the public relations generated by a Reuter's investigative report claiming that the company knew that asbestos lurked in their baby powder for decades and failed to warn consumers of the cancer risks. Reuter's cited internal company communications that were revealed in court that showed the company knew they had an "asbestos problem," and that the problem could be serious. Other correspondence at the time showed that marketing executive's reply to the asbestos cancer scare in the early 1970s was to redirect their advertising toward African American women that live in the Southern United States, a demographic the company described as a less well-informed demographic. Gorsky dropped the ball again when forced to testify in a New Jersey Johnson's Baby Powder cancer trial. The CEO told a jury that he did not personally know of the science that underlies talcum powder causing cancer or that asbestos might be in its talc supply and instead referred the matter to company scientists. The response during the punitive damages phase of the trial was not received well by jurors who awarded the plaintiffs $750 million in punitive damages.