Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump has filed a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, alleging the pharmaceutical giant marketed talcum-based baby powder specifically to Black women despite links to ovarian cancers.
Johnson & Johnson has denied the allegations, saying its marketing campaigns are “multicultural and inclusive.” The company also denies that its products cause cancer, despite a Missouri appellate court last year ruling in favor of ovarian cancer victims suing the company as part of a separate lawsuit, claiming their condition was caused by asbestos in its baby powder and other talc products.
Crump, perhaps best known for representing the family of George Floyd after his murder by Derek Chauvin, filed the suit Tuesday in New Jersey with his legal partner Paul Napoli on behalf of members of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). The council, founded in 1935, is a nonprofit that advocates for and empowers women of African descent and their families.
“I would be remiss if I did not say exactly what this lawsuit is about. It is about the lives of our grandmothers, our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our nieces, and our wives, and how they were sinisterly targeted by Johnson and Johnson,” Crump said at a news conference Tuesday announcing the suit. “This multi-billion-dollar corporation, their corporate executives know about the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer.”
“Black women have always been the backbone of this country, standing up for everyone, but receiving the least amount of respect,” he added. “Well, it is time that we stand up for Black women.”
At the news conference, victims who lost family members to ovarian cancer tearfully spoke out about the impact these deaths have had on their lives.
Lydia Huston said her mother died of ovarian cancer in 2014. She remembers the mother of two and grandmother of eight as a “phenomenal cook” who “loved to take care of the people that she loved.”
“We had a routine and it involves hygiene, a very clean home and a very clean body,” she said. “And just like deodorant, soap, lotion, and toothpaste, talcum powder was a part of the daily routine that she had for over 35 years.”
“I miss her dearly, and I want justice for her,” Huston said.
Janice Mathis, the executive director of the NCNW, added in a separate statement that “generations of Black women” used Johnson & Johnson products as part of their daily routines.
“This company, through its words and images, told Black women that we were offensive in our natural state and needed to use their products to stay fresh,” she said. “Generations of Black women believed them and made it our daily practice to use their products in ways that put us at risk of cancer — and we taught our daughters to do the same.”
Johnson & Johnson has denied that its baby powder products cause cancer, but has previously said that it is facing more than 20,000 lawsuits over its talcum products. Despite assurances it is safe, the company stopped selling talc-based baby powder in 2020 in the U.S., citing reduced demand due to misinformation and litigation advertising.
In June 2020, an appellate court in Missouri upheld more than $2 billion in damages against Johnson & Johnson, saying the company knew there was asbestos in its baby powder. In June of this year, the Supreme Court declined to hear the company’s appeal of the Missouri verdict.
The company told ABC News in a statement that independent scientific testing has proved its products do not cause cancer. A Journal of the American Medical Association report released last year found “no statistically significant link” between use of powder in the genital area and risk of ovarian cancer.
“We empathize with anyone suffering from cancer and understand that people are looking for answers. We believe those answers can be better understood through science — and decades of independent scientific testing by medical experts around the world has confirmed that our products are safe, do not contain asbestos, and do not cause cancer,” Johnson & Johnson told ABC News in a statement Tuesday.
“The accusations being made against our company are false, and the idea that our Company would purposefully and systematically target a community with bad intentions is unreasonable and absurd,” the statement added. “Johnson’s Baby Powder is safe, and our campaigns are multicultural and inclusive.”
“We firmly stand behind the safety of our product and the ways in which we communicate with our customers,” the company said, noting that more information can be found at www.FactsAboutTalc.com.
ABC News’ Stephanie Wash contributed to this report.