published : 2023-11-16

Former director sues American Diabetes Association, alleging 'pay-to-play' scheme with Splenda

The New Jersey lawsuit alleges the ADA violated its own guidelines and standards of care on nutrition

The American Diabetes Association headquarters building in Arlington, Virginia, taken with a Nikon D850.

A former director of nutrition for the American Diabetes Association sued the non-profit organization on Wednesday, accusing it of firing her for objecting to what she called a 'pay to play' scheme to promote the no-calorie sweetener Splenda.

Elizabeth Hanna said the ADA 'sold the good name of the organization' to sponsors like Splenda maker Heartland Food Products Group, 'in violation of its own guidelines and standards of care on nutrition,' in a lawsuit filed in state court in Bergen County, New Jersey.

Hanna specifically accused ADA Vice President Nicole Johnson of engaging in an 'intentional and targeted campaign' of retaliation.

A spokesperson for the ADA said in an email that the organization and Ms. Johnson deny all allegations put forth by Ms. Hanna.

Elizabeth Hanna, former director of nutrition for the American Diabetes Association, holding up a packet of Splenda sweetener, taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

A Heartland spokesperson called the allegation that it was involved in a scheme 'false and offensive.'

The ADA describes its mission as educating the public about diabetes and lists several corporate sponsors, including Splenda, on its website.

Hanna, a registered dietitian nutritionist, said she refused to approve the endorsement of several recipes containing Splenda, as they did not align with ADA nutrition guidelines.

She accused Johnson of pressuring her to approve the recipes despite her objections and complained to the ADA's human resources department about this issue.

Close-up of a cucumber salad, one of the recipes endorsed by the ADA and featuring Splenda sweetener, taken with a Sony Alpha A7 III.

Hanna's complaint cited recent studies suggesting that artificial sweeteners may have health risks, including cancer, elevated blood sugar, and diabetes.

She was subsequently fired in October, and she is now suing the ADA for violating New Jersey law protecting employees from retaliation and seeking unspecified money damages.