In a San Francisco courtroom, DeWayne “Lee” Johnson sat facing the Honorable Suzanne R. Bolanos. Lee, a cancer-stricken groundskeeper who was suing Monsanto, the giant agribusiness firm, was used to the cool outdoor air coming off Grizzly Bay while working the grounds at the Benicia Unified School District. Now, he sat in a stately, wood-paneled courtroom with his team of attorneys awaiting Judge Bolanos’ rendering of the verdict. It was Friday, August 10. The court had been in session since July 9.
It had been four years since Lee first noticed the signs of his blood-cancer. It started with a rash on his body. Then lesions on his skin appeared. Lee was soon on the phone with Monsanto, asking whether his use of its herbicide, Roundup, while spraying the school district’s lawns could have caused such irritation. Court documents revealed emails showing Monsanto discussed Lee’s problem internally but never responded formally to his concerns. So, Lee kept using the herbicide.