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Ex-IBM Workers’ Cancer Suit Moves Forward

October 1, 2003

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ Two former IBM employees who believe their semiconductor factory jobs exposed them to cancer-causing chemicals can pursue a lawsuit against the firm, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Superior Court Judge Robert Baines said the cases of Alida Hernandez and James Moore, who worked in IBM’s South San Jose, Calif., microchip assembly plant for much of the 1970s and 1980s, could proceed to a jury trial starting Oct. 14.

IBM contended in court last week that Hernandez and Moore’s cases had no merit and should not be heard. Baines also dismissed two other cases against IBM on Tuesday.

Hernandez and Moore allege that the Armonk, N.Y.-based technology giant knowingly exposed workers to cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene and arsenic, and lied to them about the health risks. They say IBM doctors knew an alarming number of workers in its semiconductor factories were dying from rare cancers in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

Hernandez was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy two years after retiring from IBM, despite having no family history of the disease. Moore, who began working for IBM in the late 1960s, is battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. They’re seeking unspecified damages from IBM and chemical suppliers including Union Carbide, Shell Oil and Fisher Scientific.

``We’ve been fighting to get IBM in court for five years, so we’re looking forward to the trial,″ said Richard Alexander, lead attorney for the San Jose workers. ``It’s time the truth was heard.″

The case is the first of more than 250 lawsuits filed against IBM from workers in Silicon Valley, New York and Minnesota. The cases have riveted the semiconductor industry.

In rulings issued Tuesday, the judge dismissed cases against IBM by former employee Maria Santiago and the children of Suzanne Rubio, an IBM disk assembler and inspector who died of breast cancer at age 37.

David J. DiMeglio, an attorney representing IBM, called the dismissals ``deeply gratifying.″

He said the ruling ``essentially guts the entire theory that all plaintiffs were proceeding by,″ DiMeglio said in a phone interview from his office in Los Angeles. ``The ruling sets a high legal standard that the remaining plaintiffs won’t be able to meet.″

The judge refused to dismiss cases by Santiago and Rubio’s children against IBM chemical suppliers Shell Oil and Union Carbide. They will go to trial with Moore and Hernandez’s cases.

IBM settled a lawsuit in 2001 by two former employees who alleged that exposure to chemicals caused birth defects in their son. But the company has not settled the San Jose cases.

According to a ``corporate mortality file″ used to document the deaths of 30,000 IBM employees from 1969 to 2000, an unusually large number of workers contracted lymph, blood, breast and brain cancers, as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia and the very rare multiple myeloma.

IBM and its attorneys say it’s impossible to know whether exposure to toxins in IBM plants _ and not genetic factors or lifestyle decisions such as smoking or drug use _ led to early deaths and illnesses.

``Their claims just don’t have the factual or legal support,″ DiMeglio said.