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Opioid Companies Reach Last-Minute $261M Settlement to Avoid First Federal Opioid Trial

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  • Five pharmaceutical companies reached a $261 million settlement to avoid a lawsuit that accused them of contributing to the opioid crisis. 
  • The settlements were reached around midnight Monday, just hours before the trial was set to begin.
  • The immediate trial was averted, but these companies—as well as Johnson & Johnson—are not free of the larger case, which is a consolidation of more than 2,500 lawsuits from various state and local governments.

New Settlements Avert Immediate Trial

Five companies involved in a massive federal opioid lawsuit settled with two Ohio counties early Monday morning, paying $261 million dollars to avert the first trial in a larger case.

These settlements do not prevent the full trial, but they do delay it significantly. The portion of the trial scheduled to begin Monday would have involved both Cuyahoga and Summit counties and would have been known as a “bellwether trial,” a beginning trial examining a smaller portion of the larger case.

The outcome of it would have then been used to anticipate the results of the larger case, which is a consolidation of more than 2,500 lawsuits lodged by cities, counties, tribes, and states. It accuses the companies of contributing to the opioid crisis.

Companies originally involved in the lawsuit include AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson—which are known as the “Big Three” drug distributors in the country. Walgreens, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Purdue, and Johnson & Johnson were also named.

Between midnight and 1:00 a.m., the “Big Three” averted the first of the trials by agreeing to pay a combined $215 million to Ohio’s Cuyahoga and Summit counties. Teva additionally reached an agreement to pay $20 million in cash and another $25 million in suboxone, which is a drug used to treat opioid addiction.

Additionally, Henry Schein Medical agreed to pay $1.25 million.

“If this was a war, today was supposed to be D-Day, where we engage the enemy and storm the beach,” Paul Farrell Jr., an attorney for the two counties, told NPR. “So, last night at 11:50 p.m., the defendants retired from the field and decided to settle this particular skirmish rather than fight.”

Previously, the lone judge presiding over the cases encouraged both sides to reach settlements in order to prevent a potentially lengthy and bitter trial, meaning victims of the opioid crisis would begin to start seeing money sooner.

Notably, Walgreens did not reach any settlements, but its trial has now been delayed for up to six months, provided the pharmacy doesn’t end up reaching a settlement of its own beforehand. 

As for that larger trial involving the other 2,500 lawsuits, those are still scheduled to begin early next year if these companies fail to reach additional settlements.

The case has been closely scrutinized as a potentially precedent-setting trial; however, by settling, these companies prevent a landmark decision by the federal government that could serve as a legal litmus test for holding opioid companies accountable. 

Purdue and Johnson & Johnson Settle

Purdue was the first pharmaceutical company listed in the trial to settle, notably reaching a global agreement of $12 billion.

Purdue then filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which is still pending and will eventually be expected to form a new company that will continue manufacturing the painkiller OxyContin. The new company is expected to also donate addiction treatment and overdose reversal drugs.

The owners of Purdue were also expected to pay no less than $3 billion and up to $4.5 billion of the grand total, though some state attorneys generals said the fine did not account for the damages they’ve seen their states. 

“These people are among the most responsible for the trail of death and destruction the opioid epidemic has left in its wake,” North Carolina AG Josh Stein said in a promise to go directly after the Sacklers.

On Oct. 1, Johnson & Johnson reached a settlement for $20.4 million dollars for Cuyahoga and Summit counties. 

Johnson & Johnson Loses Oklahoma Trial

In August, Johnson & Johnson became the first pharmaceutical company to lose a case holding it responsible for the opioid crisis.

The case, which is lost to the state of Oklahoma, was considered a precedent among experts, though Johnson & Johnson has appealed it to the state’s Supreme Court.

At the time, Johnson & Johnson had been ordered to pay $572 million, but that number was later brought down by $107 million after a miscalculation by Judge Thad Balkman. Balkman said the number could continue to change before he gives his final order.

See what others are saying: (Politico) (Reuters) (NBC News)

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Google Is Banning “Sugar Dating” Apps as Part of New Sexual Content Restrictions

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The change essentially targets apps like Elite Millionaire Singles, SeekingArrangements, Spoil, and tons of other sugar dating platforms.


Sugar Dating Crackdown

Google has announced a series of policy changes to its Android Play Store that include a ban on sugar dating apps starting September 1.

The company’s Play Store policies already prohibit apps that promote “services that may be interpreted as providing sexual acts in exchange for compensation.”

Now, it has updated its wording to specifically include “compensated dating or sexual arrangements where one participant is expected or implied to provide money, gifts or financial support to another participant (‘sugar dating’).”

The change essentially targets apps like Elite Millionaire Singles, SeekingArrangements, Spoil, and tons of other sugar dating platforms currently available for download.

Search results for “Sugar Daddy” on Google’s Play Store

What Prompted the Change?

The company didn’t explain why it’s going after sugar dating apps, but some reports have noted that the move comes amid crackdowns of online sex work following the introduction of the FOSTA-SESTA legislation in 2018, which was meant to curb sex trafficking.

That’s because FOSTA-SESTA created an exception to Section 230 that means website publishers can be held liable if third parties are found to be promoting prostitution, including consensual sex work, on their platforms.

It’s worth noting that just because the apps will no longer be available on the Play Store doesn’t mean the sugar dating platforms themselves are going anywhere. Sugar daters will still be able to access them through their web browsers, or they can just sideload their apps from other places.

Still, the change is likely going to make the use of these sites a little less convenient.

See what others are saying: (The Verge)(Engadget)(Tech Times)

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Activision Blizzard CEO Apologizes for “Tone Deaf” Response to Harassment Suit, Unsatisfied Employees Stage Walkout

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Organizers of a Wednesday walkout say they “will not return to silence” and “will not be placated by the same processes that led us to this point.”


CEO Apologizes

After a week of growing criticism against its workplace culture, the CEO of Activision Blizzard has finally apologized for how the company first responded to allegations of sexual harassment and assault in its offices.

“Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf,” CEO Bobby Kotick said Tuesday in a letter to employees. “It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way. I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding.” 

In its initial response, Activision Blizzard denounced the disturbing allegations brought forth in a lawsuit by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) as “irresponsible.” The company added that it came from “unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.”

But many current and former employees soon disputed that claim. In fact, at the time, more than 2,500 had signed their name to an open letter condemning the company for its response, which they described as “abhorrent and insulting” to survivors. 

In his letter, Kotick promised employees that Blizzard will take “swift action to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for.”

As part of a series of new policies, he said the company will now offer additional employee support and listening sessions, as well as potential personnel changes to leadership.

“Anyone found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences will be terminated,” he added.

Kotick also said Blizzard will add “compliance resources” to ensure that leadership is adhering to diverse hiring directives.

Lastly, he promised that the company will remove “inappropriate” in-game content. In a similar statement on Tuesday, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft team said it’s actively working to remove “references that are not appropriate for our world,” though it didn’t specify what those references were. 

It now appears that many of the references being removed are of the game’s former Senior Creative Director, Alex Afrasiabi, who is cited in the lawsuit as someone who hit on and made unwanted advances at female employees. Moreover, the suit also directly accuses him of groping one woman.

“Afrasiabi was so known to engage in harassment of females that his suite” during company events “was nicknamed the “[Cosby] Suite” after alleged rapist Bill [Cosby],” the suit claims. 

Blizzard Walkout

Organizers of a company-wide employee walkout, which was announced Tuesday and occurred Wednesday, still argue that Kotick’s latest message doesn’t address their larger concerns.

Among those are “the end of forced arbitration for all employees,” “worker participation in oversight of hiring and promotion policies,” “the need for greater pay transparency to ensure equality,” and “employee selection of a third party to audit HR and other company processes.”

“We will not return to silence; we will not be placated by the same processes that led us to this point.”

Ahead of the walkout, Blizzard reportedly encouraged its own employees to attend, saying those workers would face no repercussions and “can have paid time off” during the demonstration, according to The Verge. 

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Polygon) (CNBC)

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Frito-Lay Workers End Nearly Three-Week Strike After Securing Higher Wages and a Guaranteed Day Off

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Employees also negotiated an end to “suicide shifts,” which are two 12-hour shifts that are only eight hours apart. 


Strike Ends

Hundreds of Frito-Lay workers in Kansas have put an end to their nearly three-week strike over alleged mandatory overtime assignments that resulted in extremely long work weeks and so-called “suicide shifts.”

The term “suicide shift” refers to working two 12-hour shifts with only eight hours of rest in between. That can be especially hard on employees who claim to have worked up to 84 hours in a single week. For context, that’s 12 hours a day without a single day off. 

One of the reasons workers have found themselves taking on more hours and days at plants is because consumer snacking has increased during the pandemic — so much so that Frito Lay’s recent net growth has exceeded every single one of its targets. That’s why at one point, the striking workers asked consumers to boycott Frito-Lay products in a show of solidarity.

The strikes began July 5 and concluded on July 23 following an agreement reached by union leaders and PepsiCo., Frito-Lay’s parent company. Under that deal, all employees will see a 4% wage increase over the next two years. They’ll also be guaranteed at least one day off a week, and the company will no longer schedule workers with only eight hours off between shifts. 

Following the agreement, Anthony Shelton, the president of the union representing the workers, said that they’ve “shown the world that union working people can stand up against the largest food companies in the world and claim victory for themselves, their families and their communities.”

“We believe our approach to resolving this strike demonstrates how we listen to our employees, and when concerns are raised, they are taken seriously and addressed,” Frito-Lay said in a statement. “Looking ahead, we look forward to continuing to build on what we have accomplished together based on mutual trust and respect.”

The Long, Bitter Road to an Agreement

When the workers went on strike, they lobbed several very disturbing accusations against Frito-Lay. 

In fact, the workers were pushed so hard that according to one employee who wrote in the Topeka Capital-Journal, “When a co-worker collapsed and died, you had us move the body and put in another co-worker to keep the line going.”

While Frito-Lay dismissed this account as “entirely false,” other employees continued to protest conditions in the plants. Many even argued the 90-degree temperatures they had to stand in to protest outside were preferable to the 100-degree-plus temperatures and smokey conditions in the factories. 

During the strikes, PepsiCo. actively disputed that its employees are overworked, describing their claims as “grossly exaggerated” and saying, “Our records indicate 19 employees worked 84 hours in a given work week in 2021, with 16 of those as a result of employees volunteering for overtime and only 3 being required to work.” 

It also said an initial concession more than met the striking employees’ terms, but the union backing those workers disagreed, and further negotiations were held until the final deal was reached. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Business Insider)

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