Plaintiff Tamara Bryant alleges her uterine cancer was caused by her regular and prolonged use of hair relaxer products manufactured by the defendants that contain phthalates and other endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs)
On January 13, 2023, Equal Justice Society, Lieff Cabraser, and Serna & Associates PLLC filed a federal injury lawsuit in the Central District of California on behalf of plaintiff Tamara Bryant alleging that Ms. Bryant’s uterine cancer was directly and proximately caused by her regular and recurrent use of hair relaxer products created by L’Oreal, Soft Sheen-Carson, Dermoviva Skin Essentials, Dabur International, Namaste Laboratories, Strength of Nature, and Godrej Son Holdings.
The lawsuit brings claims arising from defendants’ negligent, willful, and wrongful conduct in connection with the design, development, manufacture, testing, packaging, promoting, marketing, distribution, labeling, and/or sale of the products known as Dark & Lovely, OS Olive Oil Relaxer, Just for Me, and African Pride.
In 2020, the global Black Hair care market was estimated at $2.5 billion, with the hair relaxer market alone estimated at $718 million in 2021. It is estimated that as many as 90% of Black women in the United States have used relaxer products.
Unfortunately, in October 2022, the National Institutes of Health published a study showing a connection between hair relaxer usage and uterine cancer, with even higher cancer rates if relaxers were used frequently (i.e., four or more times/year). This follows other studies which have raised concerns about the toxicity of ingredients in hair relaxers.
The non-partisan Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that hair relaxers are among the worst-scoring of over 1,100 beauty products on EWG’s Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database, a resource for finding less-hazardous alternatives to personal care products.
Historical context: As noted in the complaint, in its natural or untreated state, Black or “afro-textured” hair is characterized by coils, zigzag, and s-curve curl patterns, as well as density and fullness. In Africa, hair was seen as a source of personal and spiritual power. One of the first things American slave masters did to enslaved people was to cut their hair. This was a way to “break their spirit and make slaves easier to control.”
Going back to the time of chattel slavery, white Americans came to see African or Black hair as something to be hidden, animalistic, or ugly, with the idea that “good hair” is equated with a straighter hair texture and that straighter hair connoted a superior character. Thus, “the texture of an enslaved person’s hair could determine their value and working conditions, which in turn might impact their overall health, comfort and chances for freedom.”
Black men and women internalized the understanding that the straighter and less kinky their hair was, the better a life they could have, which fueled the desire for hair straightening tools and products. This legacy of American slavery and its relationship to Black hair continues to this day, as natural Black hair is still subject to social stigma in many quarters and necessitates the passage of laws protecting employees and others from mistreatment due to having a natural hairstyle.
This industry of cancer-causing products is another insidious part of a much larger crisis killing and harming Black women. Black women are four times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than white women irrespective of income and education levels. Newborn babies of Black women are three times more likely to die when looked after by white doctors. Black women experience vastly higher rates of many preventable diseases and chronic health conditions including diabetes, hypertension, fibroids, and cardiovascular disease.
Additionally, because of the use of hair relaxers marketed aggressively to Black women and the pressure to assimilate to racist respectability and beauty norms, Black women are twice as likely to develop uterine cancer, one of the deadliest forms of this disease.
Plaintiff Tamara Bryant is a resident of Los Angeles, California. As detailed in the complaint, Ms. Bryant was first exposed to EDCs and/or phthalate-based hair relaxer products around 1998, when she was approximately 14 years old. Ms. Bryant continued using these products from 1998 to 2014 approximately twice a month. There was never any warning or labeling on the Products that normal use of the Products could cause her to develop cancer. Ms. Bryant was diagnosed with uterine cancer after a miscarriage she had on December 12, 2016, while in a hospital emergency room.
Ms. Bryant required immediate medical attention to remove her fallopian tubes and the cancer to prevent the cancer from metastasizing. In January 2017 she underwent surgery for removal of her fallopian tubes and the related cancer. Ms. Bryant has had to have follow-up tests performed each year to ensure the cancer does not return. As a result of Defendants’ acts and omissions, Ms. Bryant has suffered extreme pain and suffering and emotional distress, substantial impairments to her quality of life, outlook, and plans for the future, and monetary losses.
“We urgently need to shine a light on and reverse the devastating health outcomes suffered by Black women, who have been targeted for too long by manufacturers of unsafe products,” said Lisa Holder, President of the Equal Justice Society and counsel for Ms. Bryant and her family. “This case is just one part of a much larger issue of bias with dire environmental and health consequences for Black women.”
“For too long, Black women like our client have been targeted for dangerous products,” said Kelly Dermody of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein. “We seek to vindicate Ms. Bryant’s rights to the fullest extent to ensure that hair relaxer companies no longer consider it acceptable to expose Black women and other women of color to the horrific health risks our client has suffered.”
“This is a multi-generational injustice whose breadth is only now being fully exposed,” notes Serna & Associates PLLC partner Enrique Serna, who also represents Ms. Bryant. “We look forward to Ms. Bryant having her day in court.”
The lawsuit asserts claims for strict liability, failure to warn, design and/or manufacturing defects, false advertising, fraud, fraudulent concealment, breach of express and implied warranties, negligence, gross negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and negligent failure to recall, as well as violations of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, and seeks compensatory damages, economic damages in the form of medical expenses, and punitive and/or exemplary damages for defendants’ wanton, willful, fraudulent, and reckless acts which demonstrated a complete disregard for the safety and welfare of the general public and Plaintiff.
For more information, visit our Uterine Cancer from Hair Relaxers case page.