WPP settles harassment lawsuit between Erin Johnson and JWT

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Erin Johnson
Erin Johnson  Credit: JWT

After more than two years of legal jousting, WPP has settled the sexual harassment lawsuit brought by former JWT Chief Communications Officer Erin Johnson. The suit alleged racist, sexist and anti-Semitic comments from Gustavo Martinez, then global CEO of JWT. The conditions of the settlement are unclear, but it included a "substantial" monetary payout, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The news comes just a day after WPP announced that CEO Martin Sorrell was being investigated for personal misconduct.

Johnson resigned on Wednesday after the case was settled, effective immediately.

"The past few years have been challenging to say the least," Johnson said in a statement she provided to Ad Age, "and I am grateful for the love and encouragement from family, friends and those of you in the industry who spoke up and offered support. Thank you. ... I hope that my personal experience will encourage others to speak up and follow their convictions. Moving forward, I wish Tam [Tamara Ingram, Global CEO] and the JWT team success."

When Johnson filed the suit in March of 2016, the allegations shocked an industry unused to such a public airing of grievances. But in the wake of the #MeToo movement, there had been much confusion in the industry about why the suit dragged on when accused harassers at other agencies were quickly removed, typically before the issue escalated to a lawsuit.

Johnson's resignation leaves the agency with only one associate to attend to global comms, and no one specifically dedicated to the flagship New York office. It is unclear whether Johnson will be replaced or if JWT plans to build out the department.

The suit, which had played out in the press over two years, cast a shadow over the world's oldest ad agency. In February, JWT announced a slate of leadership changes meant to revitalize the office. New York CEO Lynn Power departed for other ventures, and Chief Creative Officer for New York and Canada Brent Choi left Manhattan to return to Toronto. Last month, Global Chief Creative Officer Matt Eastwood also resigned, leaving vacant a senior role the agency has no plans to fill.

Calls to Johnson's lawyers were not immediately returned. Ingram, who took over after Martinez resigned in 2016, sent an internal memo to JWT staff on Wednesday confirming the settlement. "I'm writing to share the news that JWT has reached an amicable settlement agreement with Erin Johnson, Chief Communications Officer, in the Johnson vs. JWT et al. lawsuit," she wrote. "While the terms of the agreement are confidential and will not be disclosed, I can confidently share that the resolution was amicable. ... Please join me in offering Erin our best wishes in her future endeavors. I know this has been a challenging time for everyone. We now need to look forward and focus our efforts on reimagining the future for J. Walter Thompson and our clients."

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