Dentsu Set to File Countersuit Against Biegel

Shop Says Creative Was Let Go Due to Poor Performance, Not Because He Complained About Boss' Sex Adventures

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In response to a former creative director's sexual-harassment and discrimination claim, Dentsu fired back yesterday, saying that Steve Biegel's dismissal came from a shake-up in the Japanese ad giant's New York office -- not because he balked at being dragged along on the sexual adventures of his boss, as alleged in his federal lawsuit.
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Dentsu is expected to countersue for libel against Mr. Biegel, who was fired in November 2006. Mr. Biegel, who held the role of senior VP-group creative director, claims he was shown the door after complaining about being forced into a number of sexually charged situations by Toyo Shigeta, the CEO of Dentsu Holdings. Those situations involved trips to a Prague bathhouse and a Tokyo brothel, just two of several excursions outlined in detail in Mr. Biegel's salacious legal filing.

'Going on for a long time'
A Dentsu countersuit is likely to be based on Mr. Biegel's outreach to his former clients in the months running up to the lawsuit's filing. A company spokesman said that not only had the holding company been aware of Mr. Biegel's forthcoming suit, so had a number of Dentsu's clients. Mr. Biegel "had a draft of the suit ready months ago" and "went and showed a draft of the suit to some of Dentsu's clients," a spokesman said. "This has been going on for a long time."

Mr. Biegel's lawyer, Andrew Dwyer, confirmed that some clients were notified about the legal action as part of an attempt to determine whether Mr. Biegel's termination had anything to do with performance. He didn't specify which marketers, but Mr. Biegel worked on Canon and Toyota, according to the lawsuit. The client communications were identified as defamatory by Dentsu lawyers, said Mr. Dwyer, who denies those charges.

"Only one client responded and ultimately didn't provide any information," he said. "If that's defamation of character, then you're saying it's illegal to complain about discrimination."

Canon declined to comment and Toyota could not be reached at press time.

Canon, especially, has figured in the lawsuit. Mr. Biegel is alleging that one of Mr. Shigeta's offending acts was taking an "upskirt" photograph of Canon spokeswoman Maria Sharapova during a commercial shoot for the marketer. That photo of the tennis star, whose panties are clearly visible as she props her legs up on a chair during a break in the shoot, was attached to the lawsuit as evidence. Ms. Sharapova couldn't be reached for comment.

Cutting weakest links
The Dentsu spokesman, Steve Ellwanger, claimed that Mr. Biegel's termination resulted from a widespread management overhaul following the appointment in June 2006 of Tim Andree as head of Dentsu's North American operation. When Mr. Andree was installed, he was given a mandate by Dentsu's corporate overseas office "to get into more reviews [for new businesss], and then make the finals of the reviews." To that end, Mr. Andree, who is named as defendant in Mr. Biegel's suit along with Mr. Shigeta, was tasked to identify the weakest links in the company and "to make whatever changes necessary."

"It's safe to say that the leadership at Dentsu was not thrilled with the work [Mr. Biegel and his immediate supervisor] were doing," Mr. Ellwanger added.

Mr. Dwyer said his client was never notified of any specific deficiencies in his performance and was fired, he was told, because the company was moving in "a new direction." He also pointed to Mr. Biegel's awards, which include a bronze Effie this past year for work on Canon. And, he argues, the creative's work had lucrative results for the agency.

"If they had anything specific against him, I'd love to hear it," Mr. Dwyer said.
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