How a poor school groundskeeper took on Monsanto and won

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If a company hides information that suggests its top money-making product is unsafe, keeps adverse findings from regulators, employs ghostwriters to gin up favorable scientific studies and media coverage, funds front groups in an attempt to discredit critics, fails to provide warnings to consumers, and, according to jurors who reviewed a mountain of evidence, is responsible for serious illnesses and death, how would you hold the people responsible to account?

If the company were Monsanto, you couldn’t.

Monsanto — once one of the marquee corporate names in St. Louis — is now gone, gobbled up in 2018 for a whopping $63 billion.

Bayer AG paid a premium and Monsanto shareholders made a bundle, just as lawsuits alleging a link between Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma were beginning to heat up. Did hubris account for Bayer’s failure to heed warning signs? Or did Bayer bank on the long game, knowing that in America most everything can be resolved for a price? Whatever the answer, Bayer is now putting the finishing touches on settlements to resolve more than 100,000 Roundup-related lawsuits, as well as likely future litigation.

But Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, the very first plaintiff to win a judgment against Monsanto, no longer has to wait.

In August 2018, a California jury awarded Johnson, a former school groundskeeper, $289 million after finding that his contact with Roundup — one time, the weed killer soaked his body when a hose broke — contributed to his horrifying cancer. Monsanto, the jury agreed, should have provided a label warning of the potential health hazard.