Siddharth Breja says he was fired days after questioning Juul’s decision to sell a shipment of vape pods it had criticized its own supplier for sending.
A former Juul executive has filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming the controversial e-cigarette manufacturer put a million tainted vape pods on the market.
According to The Washington Post, the complaint was filed by Siddharth Breja, who served as the company’s vice president of global finance. However, Breja was dismissed from his job in March, days after raising concerns about a shipment of mint-flavored refill kits. Breja also protested Juul’s decision to not notify public health officials.
In another incident cited in the suit, dating back to February 2019, Breja claims that Juul wanted to resell vape pods that were almost a year old. Despite Breja protesting the move and advising that Juul stick to its “best by” dates, he was over-ruled.
The suit, adds Buzzfeed, accuses former Juul CEO Kevin Burns of waving away Breja’s concerns, saying, “Half our customers are drunk and vaping like mo-fos, who the fuck is going to notice the quality of our pods?”
Burns has since denied ever saying “anything remotely close to” what Breja’s claimed. Nevertheless, attorneys for Breja say he was fired for trying to protect stakeholders and the public. Because of his concern, says the lawsuit, Breja was “inappropriately terminated” several days later.
“Mr. Breja became aware of very concerning actions within the company that could be jeopardizing the health of millions of Juul users. He performed his duty to shareholders, the board, and the public by reporting these issues internally, expecting that Juul’s senior management would do the right thing,” said Breja’s attorney, Harmeet Dhillon. “Instead, Juul fired him under concocted, false pretenses, and then sough tot smear him to justify its misconduct.”
Even with Burns gone, Juul maintains that its record, at least on this particular issue, is clean.
“[Breja] was terminated in March 2019 because he failed to demonstrate the leadership qualities needed in his role,” Juul said in a statement. “The allegations concerning safety issues with Juul products are equally meritless, and we already investigated the underlying manufacturing issue and determined the product met all applicable specifications. The company will vigorously defend this lawsuit.”
However, Breja claims to have learned about the contaminated pod shipment in mid-March. Juul allegedly directed him to recover some $7 million from the supplier, Alternative Ingredients, for selling sub-par, practically unusuable products.
“This hypocritical approach of not informing customers about the contamination on one hand (claiming it was not a serious issue) and charging the supplier for it on the other hand, further concerned Mr. Breja,” the suit states.
First, Breja says he was warned by a supervisor that taking any non-sanctioned action could cost Juul billions in sales while lowering its $38 billion valuation.
Ten days later, Breja lost his job. Juul justified its decision by saying that Breja had falsified aspects of his application, erroneously claiming to have served as chief financial officer of Uber.
Breja, though, says he never made such a claim and had, instead, accurately stated that he was the chief financial officer of a division of Uber. He says that Juul’s statements to the contrary are “preposterous” and “intentionally invented” to hurt his reputation and employment prospects.