WPP and JWT are seeking to seal a video that lawyers for Erin Johnson have asked to be admitted into evidence in a suit filed March 10 against JWT and its CEO Gustavo Martinez claiming that he made multiple racist and sexist remarks.
While the affidavits and protection order focus on the video, Ms. Johnson alleged a number of other incidents in her lawsuit, many of which she claims were witnessed by other JWT employees.
The agency and holding company last night filed a number of documents to the courts, including a motion for a protective order for the video and affidavits from senior executives supporting that order. The protective order seeks to seal the video Ms. Johnson's lawyers submitted. Not much detail is given in the protective order why the company is looking to seal the video.
The video has become a major point of contention for this case. Ms. Johnson said in her original lawsuit that there was video of Mr. Martinez making racist comments. It later came out that the tape in question was from a company meeting at a hotel in Miami. On March 14, Ms. Johnson's team filed an amended filing that sought to submit a DVD into evidence, saying the disc "contains an excerpt of the video footage from the May 2015 meeting in Miami."
That was a reference to a company off-site meeting where Ms. Johnson's original suit said Mr. Martinez made inappropriate comments. "On or about May 18, 2015, Martinez addressed a group of approximately 60 employees for a global meeting to pilot a new agency method for generating ideas," the suit said. "The previous night, there had been a large party at the hotel's night club attended by mostly African American guests. At the start of his presentation, Martinez described the hotel as 'tricky.' He explained that he 'found . . . different and strange characters in the elevator.' He further explained, 'I was thinking I was going to be raped at the elevator,' but 'not in a nice way.'"
The judge assigned to the lawsuit against JWT and its now-former chairman-CEO Gustavo Martinez on March 21 ordered the plaintiff to provide copies of a contested video to him and the defendants for review.
"We were all in attendance at the JWT two-day meeting at the Viceroy Hotel in Miami on Monday, May 18 and Tuesday, May 19, 2015," said a joint affidavit from Lynn Power, president of JWT New York; Matt Eastwood, chief creative officer of JWT; Amy Avery, global head of analytics at the agency; Jinal Shah, global digital strategic director and many other JWT senior executives.
"We are aware of several problems that occurred at the hotel before and during those meetings," the document said. "We know that the police were dealing with a rowdy crowd at the hotel on a Sunday night and we are aware that employees believed that they had things stolen at the hotel. Events at the hotel caused apprehension amongst the JWT employees."
The document continued: "We heard the comments that Gustavo made that are alleged in the complaint and at issue in this motion. Given the content of the highly unusual events occurring at the hotel in the night before the meetings, combined with Gustavo's lack of command of the English language and the fact that he was making a joke about himself, we did not find the comments he made offensive. It was clear that Gustavo was trying to ease the tension that we were all feeling and the people in the room seemed to appreciate his attempt to do so."
It also said: "While we would not have chosen the same words he did, it was clear that he was not creating an uncomfortable atmosphere for the company's employees, but rather he was sincerely trying to make us feel as relaxed for the important day ahead despite an unfortunate series of events outside of the company's control."
Other affidavits filed include one from Keni Thacker, senior event technology specialist. He filmed the video in question and said in the document that he is executive producer of Differenter, JWT's diversity and inclusion program. "I have read the complaint and some of the press coverage of same, which characterize the comments that Gustavo Martinez made at the meeting as racist," he said in the document. "I am African-American and I took responsibility as executive producer of Differenter because diversity is an issue I feel passionate about. The comments Gustavo made during the meeting had nothing to do with race and I did not feel at the time of the meeting or now that there was anything racist about them."
His document also noted that the comments were regarding the party the night before, which he said, "involved a large number of young people (some of whom were African-American) in bathing suits. The guests made such a mess of the room in which the meeting was to be held that I and other meeting attendees had to get up around 4 a.m. on the day of the meeting to clean up so that the room would be presentable for the meeting at 7 a.m."
A representative for JWT declined to comment further. Ms. Johnson, the chief communications officer at JWT is currently on paid leave. For this issue, JWT is now being represented by sibling WPP communications shop Finsbury.
On Tuesday morning, TBWA announced that Anaka Kobzev, who worked with Ms. Johnson on the communications team, was being named global head of communications.
"We will be filing papers opposing the company's request to prevent the public from seeing the video. Everything we have to say will be in our papers," said Ms. Johnson's attorneys when asked for comment.