June 23, 2004 11:42 AM PDT

Judge dismisses 50 IBM toxics lawsuits

A judge in California has dismissed approximately 50 toxic chemical lawsuits filed by former IBM employees against the computer giant, following a round of court-ordered mediation.

The employees had charged that IBM was responsible in part for a series of cancers and other illnesses, which they said were attributable to working with toxic chemicals used in the semiconductor manufacturing process.

An IBM spokesman said only that the cases, which represent all the outstanding toxics lawsuits facing the company in California courts, had been "concluded and dismissed." He declined to discuss whether the two sides had jointly agreed on a settlement.

The attorney for the former employees, San Jose, Calif.-based plaintiffs lawyer Richard Alexander, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The first two cases from the pool of California plaintiffs reached courts late last year. After a trial that stretched several months, a jury dismissed the claims against IBM. The judge in that case ordered the two sides into a mediation process in an attempt to settle the remaining outstanding lawsuits in the state.

Analysts had said the cases would be difficult to win for the former employees. Under California state law, the plaintiffs not only had to prove that IBM's workplace was responsible for their illnesses, but that the company had deliberately deceived its employees about the dangers of the workplace.

IBM continues to face more than 100 cases dealing with similar issues in New York courts, a company representative said.

Early in March, the company settled one New York case in which a former employee had blamed her daughter's birth defects on exposure to toxic chemicals in an IBM manufacturing plant. That case was settled the same day that jury selection was scheduled to begin.

Most of the chemicals that were associated with the various lawsuits have been phased out of the production process. The semiconductor industry has staunchly maintained that its members have done everything they could over the years to prevent exposure to toxic chemicals and that manufacturing floors were safe work environments.

After much criticism from employee groups, the Semiconductor Industry Association said in March that it would fund a far-reaching study of cancer risks in the manufacturing process, however.

 

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