The U.S. arm of the Japanese ad giant plans to file a motion in federal court to dismiss a sexual-harassment and -discrimination suit leveled against the agency and two top Dentsu executives by Steve Biegel, a former creative director in the Japanese ad giant's New York office, according to a statement from a Dentsu spokesman. Dentsu will argue Mr. Biegel's allegations are patently false.
'Should have filed a year ago'
The motion -- expected to be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of the company and defendants Toyo Shigeta, the CEO of Dentsu Holdings and Tim Andree, head of Dentsu's U.S. operation -- will claim Mr. Biegel ignored formal procedures for making grievances about sexual harassment and lodged claims more than a year after the alleged incidents took place.
"If he thought he had valid legal claims, he should have filed his lawsuit a year ago," said Steve Ellwanger, a spokesman for Dentsu. "Instead, he prepared his lawsuit and showed it to some of Dentsu's biggest clients, while he and his attorney were attempting to extract in excess of $1 million from Dentsu."
As part of its motion to dismiss, Dentsu also will refute allegations that Mr. Biegel, who worked on the agency's Canon and Toyota accounts and was fired from his post as senior VP-group creative director in November 2006, was discriminated against by upper management.
Said Mr. Ellwanger, "He was Jewish when he was hired by Dentsu, he was Jewish when he was fired and his firing was approved by the president of Dentsu, who is also Jewish. Mr. Biegel has provided not one shred of proof that his faith had anything to do with his firing."
The agency also denies that Mr. Biegel was fired for complaining about being forced into erotically-charged situations by his boss, Mr. Shigeta.
Change of plan
As of press time, it was unclear whether Dentsu had filed the motion.
At the time of Mr. Biegel's initial filing late in October, Dentsu said it planned to fire back at the allegations with a "counterclaim that Mr. Biegel has libeled Dentsu and defrauded the company," and that the agency looked forward to vindicating itself in court.
Now, in order to avoid a countersuit, Dentsu has altered its course to see if its motion to dismiss is successful before presiding Judge Colleen McMahon. If his suit is not dismissed, however, Dentsu will file an action of its own against Mr. Biegel, Mr. Ellwanger said.
Mr. Biegel's lawyer, Andrew Dwyer, couldn't be reached for comment.
The lurid details of those alleged situations -- which included trips to a Prague brothel and a Tokyo bathhouse, plus perverse photo shoots, like one in which Mr. Shigeta was alleged to have snapped an upskirt photo of tennis star and Canon spokeswoman Maria Sharapova during a 2004 commercial shoot for the marketer -- were outlined in a complaint Mr. Biegel filed in late October against his former employer. The complaint, filed in a New York federal court, seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Dentsu denies Mr. Shigeta took the photograph of Ms. Sharapova, which had been attached to the original complaint as evidence. Additionally, it denies that such a photo would meet the legal definition of constituting workplace sexual harassment.
Subsequent to his first lawsuit, Mr. Biegel filed an amended 24-page complaint that added further claims for retaliation and defamation; among other things, the defendants publicly accused Mr. Biegel of fraud and publicly attacked his professional competence, the amended suit said.
"Dentsu has done no such thing," Mr. Ellwanger said in response to those allegations.