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Hair Relaxer Lawsuit Update

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Plaintiffs filing hair relaxer lawsuits in the federal MDL have filed a Master Complaint

Santa Clara, CAWomen diagnosed with uterine cancer, ovarian cancer and other injuries who have filed hair relaxer lawsuits in federal court--now part of the multi-district litigation--have filed a “Master Complaint”. This document includes all of the allegations linking adverse health events with regular exposure to chemicals in the hair straightener and hair relaxer products. And defendants have proposed to bifurcate discovery, which plaintiffs oppose.


The definition of bifurcation is the splitting of a larger whole or main body into two smaller and separate units. For example, bifurcation can occur when one company spits into two and creates two new companies that can each sell shares to stockholders. In this case, bifurcation would require the parties to limit discovery to information relevant to general causation on the link between hair relaxers and cancer, and stay all discovery on other matters, including the liability of the manufacturers for failing to warn, when they learned about the risk, and the extent of damages women may be entitled to receive.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers say bifurcation will cause lengthy and unnecessary delays in the litigation, adding that many women will die from cancer caused by hair relaxer while waiting for the general causation discovery to be complete, reports In a brief filed on June 5, plaintiffs state that “formal discovery bifurcation—especially of general causation discovery—is highly inefficient, increases delay and costs, impedes resolution, generates inevitable disputes, and prejudices plaintiffs.”

According to the brief, “Although Defendants characterize their proposal as ‘targeted discovery’, their suggested approach would severely prejudice Plaintiffs and burden the Court…At best, the parties will engage in substantial disputes and predictable motion practice regarding the demarcation line between general causation discovery and remaining discovery. At worst, Defendant’s approach will ensure a discovery process that is exponentially longer and more expensive, all while delaying the possibility of resolution for women (or their survivors) who are suffering from serious cancers or have died.”

The brief speculates that defendants’ request for staying normal discovery is their hope to win summary judgment on general causation.

Master Complaint

The Multi-district litigation, MDL 3060 in the Northern District of Illinois is assigned to Judge Mary Rowland. The Master Complaint is filed on behalf of all Plaintiffs whose claims are subsumed within MDL 3060.

The Master Complaint, Case: 1:23-cv-00818, which was filed in May 2013, alleges that defendants L’Oréal, Revlon and numerous other manufacturers “sold, distributed, advertised, and promoted toxic hair relaxer products that caused Plaintiffs to develop cancers and other injuries, although not all products and defendants are applicable to every plaintiff with claims in these proceedings”. 

According to court documents, plaintiffs allege:
  • The use of toxic chemical straightening products designed or manufactured by the Defendants was a direct result of Defendants’ wrongful marketing practices.
  • Defendants systematically misrepresented and continue to misrepresent the significant health impacts of hair relaxer use, all while targeting women of color and taking advantage of centuries of racial discrimination and cultural coercion which emphasized—both socially and professionally—the necessity of maintaining straight hair.
  • Rather than disclosing the risks and warning women and children, Defendants exploited for profit this deep-rooted connection between hair and identity in how they chose to market their hair relaxer products.
  • Defendants purposely targeted children to increase sales and ensure generations of dedicated consumers—all while having knowledge that the hair relaxer products they designed, manufactured, advertised, and sold contained toxic carcinogens.
  • They relied on Defendant’s misrepresentations and were misled as to the products’ safety, and as a result have suffered brutal injuries including uterine and ovarian cancer.
  • Many have also suffered the loss of being able to have children.

Future Hair Relaxer Litigation

Judge Rowland is expected to schedule bellwether trials. However, if the defendants do not convince the court to dismiss the litigation entirely after general causation discovery, plaintiffs’ attorneys pointed out that the first bellwether trial could be at least four years from now, because the parties will need to go through two complete rounds of pre-trial discovery and litigation.

Judge Rowland is expected to announce the proposed discovery plan during the next status conference slated for July 6, 2023.


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