Donny Deutsch Slammed with Sensational Lawsuit

Former Partner Seeks $56 Million and PR Hit

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- This summer's best beach reading may well be Steven Dworin's lawsuit against Donny Deutsch. Whether to file it under it fact or fiction may be up to a jury to decide.
Along with Donny Deutsch, the lawsuit names CEO Linda Sawyer and the agency itself as defendants.
Along with Donny Deutsch, the lawsuit names CEO Linda Sawyer and the agency itself as defendants. Credit: Photo:AP


The suit, filed in Superior Court of New Jersey, seeks $56 million in damages for allegedly false depictions of the business relationship of the former partners in Mr. Deutsch's book, "Often Wrong, Never in Doubt, Unleash the Business Rebel Within." Replete with accusations of improper charges to clients for advertising production and lies about the size and capabilities of the agency, the suit casts Mr. Deutsch as a suspected drug abuser and ego maniac whose "highly unethical, irresponsible and unprofessional behavior" threatened the agency.

Also named as defendants in the suit, which charges libel, slander, emotional distress and breach of contract (the suit said Mr. Deutsch signed a non-disparagement agreement when Mr. Dworin left the agency then known as Deutsch Dworin in 1994) are agency CEO Linda Sawyer and the agency, Deutsch Inc.

Mr. Deutsch's lawyer, Judd Burstein, called the suit "merely a desperate effort by Steve Dworin to convince the world and himself that he is not the cause of his own failures." In addition, Mr. Burstein gave Advertising Age a letter, dated Feb. 9, written by Mr. Dworin's counsel, Keith Biebelberg, which says that Mr. Dworin is planning to open his own agency. The letter seems to admit that the lawsuit is, in part, aimed at garnering publicity.

"Under ordinary circumstances, Mr. Dworin would benefit by press coverage of his new undertaking," states the letter. "Because of Mr. Deutsch's book, the publicity that this lawsuit will generate is virtually essential to my client's attempt to counteract the harm that Mr. Deutsch has caused."

The suit drops a number of top marketing names, including that of former General Motors Corp. honcho Phil Guarascio. Mr. Dworin's suit alleges that Mr. Deutsch plotted to fool Mr. Guarascio into thinking the agency was larger than it was, suggesting the creation of "an inauthentic phone directory" inflating the shop's numbers.

Perhaps the most serious allegation in the suit is that the agency generated revenue "improperly, unethically and illegally" through the use of a Deutsch-owned-subsidiary, Jones Films. "Deutsch clients were misled to believe the agency's producers were fairly and ethically executing the traditional, blind, triple-bid bidding system, yet, unknown to them, they were hiring a Deutsch subsidiary that was given an unfair advantage in bidding. In addition, clients did not know the company was often making money twice," Mr. Dworin said in the suit.

Among the allegations:

-That within the first week of Mr. Dworin's employment, three of the agency's top managers, including Ms. Sawyer, complained to him about Mr. Deutsch's lying to clients and employees, unreliability and failure to follow through on promises. The suit includes to a comment made by Steen Cantor, the president of the agency's then-largest client, Ikea-East, saying he didn't trust the agency because, "Donny blows smoke up my ass, he is full of shit..."

-That within his first week of work, Mr. Deutsch's father [David Deutsch] concurred with Mr. Dworin that lying to the industry about the agency's size and abilities must stop and that he was "bothered by it."

-That Mr. Deutsch's "frequent trips to the lavatory, emerging with constant sniffing, his occasional incoherence, and ... the people in and out of his office who were neither employees nor clients" convinced Mr. Dworin that Mr. Deutsch had a drug problem. Mr. Dworin told him so.

Then there's the question of ego. The suit charges that Mr. Deutsch calls Mr. Dworin an "ego-driven maniac." But the suit makes a similar characterization of Mr. Deutsch, calling him "a self-promoted creative big shot," who had "an obsession with the press." The suit also said Mr. Deutsch's behavior concerned top agency executives who complained that he "cared only about press for himself, often at the expense of the agency."

It goes on to chronicle Mr. Dworin's own achievements. "Mr. Dworin is widely known within the industry as being 'smart,' strategic, conceptual and is perceived to have a gut instinct for client needs," the suit states. "So much so that Mr. Deutsch once told Mr. Dworin, 'You are the best advertising guy I ever saw."' The suit also states Mr. Dworin was called in the press "a new-business Svengali."
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