IBM Corp. took the offensive Thursday against a former employee who has blamed workplace chemical exposure for her breast cancer, saying Alida Hernandez had been a regular smoker who was overweight.
During cross-examination before a jury at Santa Clara County Superior Court, lawyers for IBM displayed medical and employment records that showed Hernandez smoked half a pack of cigarettes a day in the late 1970s and weighed 201 pounds around the time of her retirement in 1991.
IBM lawyer Robert Weber also said Hernandez, who is 73, began to have elevated liver enzymes years after she left IBM.
Hernandez's lawyer had suggested that liver tests taken while she was an IBM employee should have alerted the company that she was being poisoned by chemicals in the disk drive factory.
Under questioning, Hernandez said she was not aware until recently that smoking was a hazard.
"You have said you didn't know until recently that smoking was dangerous," Weber said.
"Yes," Hernandez replied.
Hernandez and another former worker, James Moore, are at the forefront of more than 200 cases against IBM by current and former workers who claim that exposure to chemicals in IBM disk drive and microchip factories gave them cancer and their children birth defects.
The cases have caught the attention of the electronics industry, which has maintained that it offers employees some of the safest working conditions of any industry.
Weber also held up a medical questionnaire that Hernandez had submitted and signed when she went to work for IBM that said she was a half-pack-a-day smoker. Hernandez did not deny the report.
"I can't remember, but if I said that then it must have been true," she said.
In direct questioning, Hernandez had described how an overpowering chemical odor in a San Jose hard drive plant greeted her on her first day of work, and how her job applying coatings to aluminum disks and cleaning factory equipment would leave a brown coating on her skin.
IBM insists that it kept chemical exposure thresholds below legal limits and kept its workplace safe for employees.