Thirty Years Later: The Legacy of the Chicago Tylenol Murders
Thirty years ago today Johnson & Johnson initiated a nationwide product recall for all its Tylenol capsules after seven people died in Chicago when several bottles were found to have been laced with potassium cyanide.
The poisonings involved Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules, manufactured by J & J’s subsidiary McNeil Consumer Healthcare. The case remains unsolved and no suspects have been charged. A $100,000 reward, offered by Johnson & Johnson for the capture and conviction of the “Tylenol Killer,” has never been claimed.
But those deaths led to reforms in the packaging of over-the-counter substances and to federal anti-tampering laws. Today the Federal Anti-Tampering Act of 1983 makes it a federal criminal offense to tamper with consumer products or to engage in related conduct. The Act was enacted as a result of the Tylenol poisonings.
Among its provisions:
- Under the Act, a person commits a federal criminal offense if he or she tampers with or attempts to tamper with any consumer product that affects interstate or foreign commerce.
- A consumer product includes food, drugs, devices, cosmetics, and any other household product that is consumed by individuals or that is used for personal care or for household services. Household products include waxes, detergents, air fresheners, or any other product that is intended to be used up or consumed. They do not include durable goods, such as vacuum cleaners, brooms, or brushes, which are not intended to be used up or consumed.
- Further, a person commits a federal criminal offense if he or she tampers with or attempts to tamper with the labeling or the container of any consumer product that affects interstate or foreign commerce. The term “labeling” includes the label on the product or any other written material that accompanies the product, such as instructions. A tampering with the labeling or the container includes the falsification or alteration of the written material.
- In order to be convicted of the offense, the person’s tampering must be done with reckless disregard for another person’s death or bodily injury. The person’s tampering must also be done under circumstances that exhibit an extreme indifference to the risk of death or bodily injury.
Another legacy of the Tylenol crisis was Johnson & Johnson’s quick and cooperative response in working with the public, the media and the medical community to warn the public of the ensuing danger. That response was widely praised at the time, and to this day continues to be a case study in crisis communications for companies to follow. The case is taught by university communications departments across the country, including the Joint Course in Communication offered by the Department of Defense Communication Graduate Program and Oklahoma University.
Over the years authorities have followed a number of leads in the case, including requesting DNA samples from “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, but no one has ever been charged in the case. However, Chicago prosecutors are now considering calling a grand jury to investigate the 1982 killings, after an FBI-led task force used new forensic techniques on the 30-year-old evidence and re-interviewed witnesses.
James W. Lewis, a former accountant who now lives in the Boston area, remains a prime suspect in the case. Lewis served 13 years for trying to extort $1 million from Johnson & Johnson. But police have so far been unable to directly link him with the crimes.
Federal Anti-Tampering Act of 1983. 18 U.S.C. § 1365.
FBI: Search for Tylenol Killer Continues
UPI: 1982 Tylenol Killings Investigated Again
Crisis Communications Strategies: The Johnson & Johnson Tylenol Crisis (Department of Defense/University of Oklahoma Joint Course in Communication)
The Tylenol Crisis: How Effective Public Relations Saved Johnson & Johnson (Pennsylvania State University)
Photograph used under Creative Commons license courtesy of Flickr user Shardayy
Fifty Years Ago: James Meredith Enters University of Mississippi
Fifty years ago today – October 2, 1962 – 29-year-old James Meredith enrolled in the University of Mississippi as its first African American student, as federal troops quelled riots around him.
The historic event came only after a prolonged legal battle that went to the U.S. Supreme Court – a battle that was necessary despite the court’s 1954 unanimous ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that separate but equal public schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment.
Despite Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett attempting to block the admission, U.S. Marshals escorted Meredith to the campus.
“I was engaged in a war,” Meredith told CNN in 2002. “I considered myself engaged in a war from day one. And my objective was to force the federal government – the Kennedy administration at that time – into a position where they would have to use the United States military force to enforce my rights as a citizen.”
From the Supreme Court opinion in Meredith v. Fair:
“Reading the 1350 pages in the record as a whole, we find that James Meredith’s application for transfer to the University of Mississippi was turned down solely because he was a Negro. We see no valid, non-discriminatory reason for the University’s not accepting Meredith. Instead, we see a well-defined pattern of delays and frustrations, part of a Fabian policy of worrying the enemy into defeat while time worked for the defenders.
The judgment of the district court is Reversed and the case Remanded with directions that the district court issue the injunction as prayed for in the complaint, the district court to retain jurisdiction.”
Meredith v. Fair, 305 F.2d 343 (5th Cir. 1962), cert. denied, 83 S.Ct. 49 (1962).
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 349 U.S. 294, (1954).
Statement by U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (September 27, 1962)
Letter from James Meredith to the U.S. Department of Justice (February 7, 1961)
Weighty Issue for Employers
Can an employer discriminate against you because you’re obese? And do new federal rules offer greater protection against such discrimination?
Not only do some employers think they can make decisions based on weight – they are seeking to control appearance in the workplace by imposing weight restrictions on job applicants or employees as a condition of employment. Is it legal? While federal law offers some protections, the short answer is – it depends.
With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), federal protections have broadened to a much larger group of people, including obese people.
Some of the changes to the ADA now define a disability as:
1. A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity; or
2. A record of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limited a major life activity; or
3. When an entity (e.g., an employer) takes an action prohibited by the ADA based on an actual or perceived impairment.
But while the new rules may afford broader protection for obese people, it is not yet clear how far that protection will go.
“Because the ADAAA is recent legislation, (we) are still waiting for cases decided under the ADAAA to funnel through the court system,” says Julie I. Ungerman, who represents management in labor and employment disputes, including claims arising under the ADA. “What we do know about the recent amendments (is) that case law seems to suggest that weight restrictions may pass muster if employers can show that the restrictions are an essential function of the position.”
American with Disabilities Act Amendments Act
More Info: [Thomson Reuters]
CEO pleads guilty to embezzlement, mail fraud, and false statements: What is that, anyway?
Russell Wasendort, Sr., pleaded guilty to embezzlement, mail fraud, and two counts of lying to federal regulators today in federal court in Iowa. He pleaded guilty to stealing more than $100 million from its customers. [Bloomberg]
View the United States Attorney charge here.
Mail Fraud: 18 U.S.C. § 1341
Embezzlement of Customer Funds: 7 U.S.C. § 13(a)(1)
False Statements to the CFTC: 7 U.S.C. § 13(a)(3)
False Statements to a Futures Association: 7 U.S.C. § 13(a)(4)
Mafia Boss Pleads Guilty to Racketeering Conspiracy—What is that, anyway?
Steven Seidenberg, reporting for ABA Journal:
Two recent studies provide news good and bad for the U.S. legal system. The good: The United States’ civil legal system is one of the best in the world, according to the results of the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index 2011.
And the bad? According to this same study, millions of Americans can’t use this fine system because they can’t afford it. They have legal rights—to child support, Medicare benefits or protection against an improper home foreclosure—but they find these rights meaningless because they can’t enforce them.
“The U.S. legal system is similar to its medical system; in many aspects it is the best in the world, but many people don’t get any services at all,” says Juan Carlos Botero, director of the Rule of Law Index project.
Commentary by Chen Guangcheng, a student at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at the New York University School of Law. He describes what was perceived as lawless punishment inflicted on his family by the Chinese government and his hope for the future.
The fundamental question the Chinese government must face is lawlessness. China does not lack laws, but the rule of law.
China’s government must confront these crucial differences between the law on the books and the law in practice.