Romero suing supplement maker
Romero alleges an unlisted ingredient in the product caused him to test positive
He says the product did not say it included androstenedione, a banned substance
Romero was suspended for the first 50 games of the 2009 season
NEW YORK (AP) -- Suspended Phillies reliever J.C. Romero has filed suit against a nutritional supplement manufacturer alleging an unlisted ingredient in one of its products caused him to test positive for a substance banned by Major League Baseball.
In the suit filed Monday in Superior Court in Camden County, N.J., Romero accused Ergopharm and Proviant Technologies as being negligent in manufacturing 6-OXO and 6-OXO Extreme, the nutritional supplements he took, and for misrepresenting their ingredients.
Also named in the suit are Vitamin Shoppe and General Nutrition Centers, stores where Romero said he purchased the over-the-counter supplements in July. He said employees at both stores recommended the supplements and assured him that using them would not lead to a failed drug test.
Romero, who earned two wins in Philadelphia's World Series victory over Tampa Bay last year, was suspended by Major League Baseball for the first 50 games of this season. He is eligible to return on June 2, barring any Phillies games being postponed.
"Testing positive and being suspended from baseball was one of the most painful experiences in my life and ... damaged my reputation in the process," Romero said in a statement released by his attorneys. "It is my hope that I can finally start to put this event behind me and protect the interests of others who rely on manufacturers and retailers to be honest about their products."
In suspending Romero, MLB ruled that players are responsible for ensuring whatever supplements they take contain no banned substances. Posters in each major league clubhouse offer players a hotline to call to check on supplements.
Rob Manfred, executive vice president of labor relations in the commissioner's office, has previously said Romero that did not use the hotline.
Romero appealed the suspension, but it was upheld by an independent arbitrator.
In his suit, Romero is seeking compensatory damages, including being repaid the $1.246 million of his $4 million salary he lost as a result of the suspension. Romero is also seeking undisclosed punitive damages because he said his reputation has been tarnished as a result of the positive test.
Two phone messages and one e-mail message left with officials at Illinois-based Proviant were not returned.
A spokeswoman for GNC, based in Pittsburgh, declined comment, saying the company does not comment on pending lawsuits. Messages left with New Jersey-based Vitamin Shoppe were not returned.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., declined to comment on the lawsuit, except to call it "a personal matter."
Romero was suspended in January after testing positive for androstenedione, a substance that Mark McGwire used in the 1990s that was later banned by baseball. Androstenedione was not listed as being among 6-OXO's ingredients, Romero's suit alleges.
Romero said he consumed the supplement for about two months before learning he had tested positive. A month later, Romero and the Major League Baseball Players' Association discovered that 6-OXO Extreme contained banned substances after having the supplement tested at an independent lab.
David Cornwell, one of three attorneys representing Romero, argued that baseball's policy is indefensible because nutritional supplements aren't regulated. He also noted that his client took reasonable precautions in an attempt to determine 6-OXO didn't contain banned substances.
"Because sports leagues and Congress haven't come up with any workable solution, they shift the burden to the player," Cornwell said. "Professional sports testing policies are the only place in America where the strict liabilities apply to a product's user and not manufacturer, and that's indefensible."
Cornwell is a sports attorney who has specialized in defending athletes in cases involving banned substances.
In his lawsuit, Romero noted the Ergopharm and Proviant touted the supplement as being "both natural and non-hormonal." He also noted that Ergopharm said it followed strict guidelines to "ensure its products live up to every specification necessary."
Romero accused Ergopharm and Proviant of being negligent in both producing the supplement and offering its contaminated products for sale without proper warning.
The suit alleges that Vitamin Shoppe and GNC were negligent for recommending that Romero buy the supplements and assuring him that they did not contain questionable substances. He said he identified himself as a professional athlete before he purchased a bottle of 6-OXO and 6-OXO Extreme at a Vitamin Shoppe in Cherry Hill, N. J. He said an employee at the store recommended the supplement to him.
He purchased another supply of Extreme at a GNC store in Fairhope, Ala., where he said an employee assured him it would not lead to a positive test for banned substances.
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