Judge Allows Biegel's Sex Harassment Claims Against Dentsu

Stikes Down Agency's Motion to Dismiss

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- A federal judge here has struck down Dentsu's motion to dismiss a sexual harassment and discrimination suit filed by former creative director Steve Biegel against the Japanese-based ad agency and two top executives last fall.

Observers expected that a number of Mr. Biegel's claims in the case, including claims of retaliation and discrimination because Mr. Biegel is Jewish, would be permitted to move forward, based on a letter presiding U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon issued this month to attorneys on both sides of the case. But the fate of the sexual-harassment claims described in Mr. Biegel's salacious October lawsuit against the company and his former bosses, Dentsu Holdings CEO Toyo Shigeta and Dentsu America CEO Timothy Andree, had been up in the air.

Those claims include sexually charged situations that Mr. Biegel, who worked for three years on the agency's Canon and Toyota accounts before he was fired in November 2006, alleges being forced into by Mr. Shigeta. They include allegations of a trip to a Czech brothel and a Japanese bathhouse, and a commercial shoot at which Mr. Shigeta allegedly snapped an "upskirt" photograph of Canon spokeswoman Maria Sharapova.

But Judge McMahon today denied in full Dentsu's motion to dismiss, ruling that all of Mr. Biegel's claims in the case may proceed to the pre-trial discovery phase.

In the wake of Mr. Biegel's original complaint, Dentsu initially vowed to fight the claims. Then the agency and Messrs. Shigeta and Andree in late November fired back with a motion to dismiss Mr. Biegel's complaint, calling his allegations bogus and nothing more than a scheme cooked up to squeeze money out of Dentsu.

In a court filing this week, Dentsu argued that Mr. Biegel's sexual harassment claims should be barred because he failed to follow procedures established by the ad agency to report instances of harassment. When he was hired, Mr. Biegel signed a form agreeing to familiarize himself with the agency's employee handbook, which contained a policy on sexual harassment. Per that policy, employees are required to bring complaints to a supervisor or to an administrative officer if the complaint involves someone in the employee's direct line of command. But, Dentsu claimed, Mr. Biegel never alerted an administrator to his alleged harassment.

Mr. Biegel, meanwhile, stated in court documents that he couldn't recall being made aware of the harassment policy during his three years at the agency. He said he lodged verbal complaints to his immediate supervisor at the time, Ron Rosen, and to Dentsu America President Doug Fidoten, but Mr. Biegel said he was discouraged to pursue the matter any further because of an agency culture that was "slavishy deferential" to superiors.

A Dentsu spokesman declined to comment on the ruling, as did attorneys for the defendants. Said Andrew Dwyer, attorney for Mr. Biegel: "We're not surprised by the outcome."
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