Racial Equity and Environmental Justice Cases at Lieff Cabraser

Since its founding in 1972, Lieff Cabraser has dedicated its practice to challenging institutional misconduct and helping advance social justice. As the firm has grown, so has its docket of cases. For three decades, Lieff Cabraser has maintained a dedicated practice focused on racial and gender equity, and civil and human rights.

Lieff Cabraser’s Civil Rights and Social Justice Practice Group prosecutes cases challenging systemic inequality and historic exclusion. Lieff Cabraser has represented Black and Latinx clients seeking to protect voting rights in Texas; South Asian, South American, and Mexican clients challenging alleged labor trafficking, wage theft, or workplace exploitation in the United States; and unaccompanied refugee and migrant children seeking asylum.

Lieff Cabraser has also secured classwide settlements for alleged workplace racial bias at companies like Abercrombie & Fitch, Best Buy, Fed Ex, Kaiser Permanente, and Morgan Stanley, and successfully represented numerous Black professionals seeking to redress exclusion and racial trauma at work.

For over 50 years, our firm has successfully represented victims of dangerous and defective drugs and consumer products as well as victims of environmental contamination with intersectional racial justice considerations, including regarding uterine and ovarian cancer injuries relating to the use of hair relaxer products, infant mortality cases relating to bovine (cow) infant formula, Talc powder allegedly causing cancer, and poison water cases in communities of color. For many years, Lieff Cabraser has also been a leader in serving indigenous, Native American and/or Native Alaskan clients and Tribes in all variety of cases involving harm to Tribal members.

See the cases and details below for more information.

Uterine and Ovarian Cancer from Hair Relaxer Products

On January 17, 2023, Lieff Cabraser and co-counsel at Equal Justice Society and Serna & Associates PLLC filed a federal injury lawsuit in California against L’Oreal and others for cancer allegedly caused by repeated use of hair relaxer products. Since that time the firm has filed additional cases against Revlon, Strength of Nature, House of Cheatham, and others. These cases allege that defendants engaged in negligent, willful, and wrongful conduct in connection with the design, development, manufacture, testing, packaging, promoting, marketing, distribution, labeling, and/or sale of the relaxer products under such names as Dark & Lovely, OS Olive Oil Relaxer, Just for Me, and African Pride.

The firm brought these cases after our firm’s investigation into widespread allegations that certain hair relaxer products have been linked to a doubling of risk of uterine cancer in women exposed to the toxic chemicals in hair relaxers. Of note, none of the products in question warn women of the link and risks to uterine cancer or any other health concern, including ovarian and related cancers.

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Clean, Safe Water Is A Racial Justice Issue

Access to clean, safe water is a fundamental human right. Yet, in the United States, this right is not guaranteed, especially for Black citizens. Residents of Jackson, Mississippi, Flint, Michigan, and Benton Harbor, Michigan have been poisoned by lead-contaminated water in their public water supply through the actions and failures of their elected officials as well as private companies.

Sadly, what all three cities have in common is that the majority of their residents are Black, and the surrounding cities are predominately white. While the tragedy in Flint has received national media attention, lead sampling in Jackson and Benton Harbor revealed similar or even more toxic levels of lead than the levels present during Flint’s water crisis.

Lieff Cabraser represents residents of Jackson and Benton Harbor in class action litigation seeking compensatory and punitive damages, including equitable relief to remediate the harm caused by dysfunctional and improperly maintained water supply systems.

Benton Harbor, Michigan Water Crisis Class Action

Jackson, Mississippi Water Crisis Class Action

Deadly Baby Formulas (Similar and Enfamil) Cause Stomach/Intestine Injuries and Death to Premature Babies

NEC is the most common, serious gastrointestinal disease affecting newborn infants. Preterm and low birth weight babies have a higher risk of NEC, and the impact of these injuries are affecting families of color in disproportionately large numbers. Indeed, premature birth themselves occur with a much higher frequency among Black families in America.

Potentially lethal NEC in preterm and low-weight infants has been linked to the use of cow-milk based formula, including Similac and Enfamil. Despite the strong medical evidence establishing the extreme dangers cow-based products pose for premature infants, manufacturers have marketed and continue to market their cow-based products as an equally safe alternative to breast milk, and indeed have falsely promoted their products as necessary for proper nutrition and growth.

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Camp Lejeune Toxic Contamination Litigation

Many Black, Latino/ a/x, Indigenous, and AAPI soldiers, servicemembers, staff, and their families spent time at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina between August 1953 and December 1987. Unfortunately, the water at that base was contaminated with toxic chemicals that may have caused or may still cause cancers or other illnesses.

In July 2023, judges of the Eastern District of North Carolina appointed Lieff Cabraser partner Elizabeth Cabraser as Co-Lead Counsel for Plaintiffs in multidistrict litigation centered in North Carolina over injuries relating to contaminated water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. The litigation over toxic water follows the enactment of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, a bipartisan bill signed by President Biden that enables individuals exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 to pursue compensation claims.

Qualified claimants under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act include Marines, military family members, and civilian workers who spent a minimum of 30 days at the base during the specified period. The water at Camp Lejeune during those years was contaminated with highly toxic chemicals such as trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), vinyl chloride, and benzene. Learn more about the case here or at https://camplejeunecourtinfo.com/.

Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer

Talcum powder has been used by women and girls for decades in what was thought to be a harmless method of absorbing moisture. Now, multiple U.S. jury verdicts linking regular use of Johnson & Johnson talcum powder to ovarian cancer highlight potentially fatal risks from talcum powder products. As alleged in lawsuits against talc manufacturers, these cancer risks were concealed from consumers, a “failure to warn” that has led to cancer-related injuries and deaths from talc exposure.

New case verdicts have found that asbestos from talc products was a causative factor in women’s ovarian cancer. Lieff Cabraser represents women with ovarian cancer they allege was caused by their long-term use of talcum powder. Learn more.

LCHB’s Current Related Work to Advance Economic Equity

California Bail Bonds Antitrust Litigation

Lieff Cabraser, together with Justice Catalyst, the National Consumer Law Center, Public Counsel, and Towards Justice, represent plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit alleging that the prices of bail bonds in California have been unlawfully inflated by a price-fixing conspiracy. The suit alleged that “sureties”—the companies that back the bonds sold by retail bond agents—have orchestrated a default price of 10% of the bond amount, and have then worked to eliminate discounting that would otherwise have occurred if the market operated competitively. This first-of-its-kind case challenges the alleged conspiracy among sureties and bail agents to inflate bail bond prices.

The defendants include surety companies and certain bail agents operating in California, including Seaview Insurance, American Surety, Allegheny Casualty, International Fidelity, and several others. Learn more.

Residential Lease Price-Fixing Lawsuit (RealPage Litigation)

Lieff Cabraser represents lessees nationwide who allege they have overpaid for rent as a result of a cartel among the largest owners of multifamily residential real estate.  These lessors used a common third party (RealPage) to collect and fix rent amounts, increasing rents above competitive levels.

The Lessor Defendants “outsource daily pricing and ongoing revenue oversight” to RealPage, replacing separate centers of independent decision-making with one.  RealPage collects up-to-the-minute data on the historical and contemporaneous pricing from participating Lessors, data that, according to RealPage, is updated “every time [Lessors] make or change a [lease] renewal offer,” spanning over “16 million units,” which is a “very large chunk of the total inventory in the country.”  It standardizes this data to account for differences in the characteristics or “class” of the property in question, and then sets prices for participating Lessors using a common formula.  RealPage touts that it sets pricing for Lessors’ “properties as though we own them ourselves”—in other words, the participating Lessors’ cartel replicates the market outcomes one would observe if they were a monopolist of residential leases, which is the goal of any cartel.

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AME Church Employee Retirement Fund Fraud (ERISA Litigation)

Lieff Cabraser represents African Methodist Episcopal Ministerial Retirement Annuity Plan participants and beneficiaries in a federal lawsuit filed against a former plan executive and other co-conspirators alleging fraud and embezzlement. The plaintiff clergy and church ministers and their families had long relied on the Church’s annuity plan for their retirement.

Lieff Cabraser’s case has been consolidated into multidistrict litigation before Judge S. Thomas Anderson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, and a consolidated complaint was filed in August 2022. Learn more.

Lieff Cabraser’s Prior Litigation Work to Advance Equity

Representing the Most Economically Marginalized (CARES Act Prison Case)

In August 2020, Lieff Cabraser and the Equal Justice Society filed Scholl v. Mnuchin, et al., a lawsuit challenging the IRS and U.S. Treasury Department’s improper withholding of CARES Act stimulus funds from over 1.5 million incarcerated Americans and their families. In October 2020, United States District Court Judge Phyllis Hamilton certified a class and entered a permanent injunction stopping the government misconduct. As a result of this case, Class members were able to secure over $1.5 billion in critically needed economic assistance for themselves and their families, making this one of the largest recoveries ever on behalf of a purposefully disenfranchised group through a single lawsuit.

Auto Finance Redlining

In cases filed in Tennessee and California, Lieff Cabraser with co-counsel represented African American and Latinx customers who alleged they were charged less favorable rates and terms for automobile financing by WFS Financial, American Honda Finance Corporation, and Toyota Motor Credit Corporation. The cases resolved for over $150 million and substantial changes in the way the companies sell automobile finance contracts.

Learn more about our Consumer Law practice.

Race Discrimination in Employment

Lieff Cabraser has filed numerous race discrimination class actions against employers, including a class action for African American, Latinx, and Asian American employees challenging the allegedly racist “look policy” of Abercrombie & Fitch. Lieff Cabraser prosecuted the case with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., and other firms. The case settled for $50 million and business changes to promote diversity and prevent discrimination.

Learn more about our firm’s Employment Law practice.

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