Judge, JWT to Review Disputed Video in Erin Johnson Suit

Attorneys for JWT Hoping to Keep Video Out of Evidence

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The DVD from Erin Johnson's suit, in a photocopy from a court filing.
The DVD from Erin Johnson's suit, in a photocopy from a court filing.

The judge in the lawsuit against JWT and its now-former chairman-CEO Gustavo Martinez on Monday ordered the plaintiff to provide copies of a contested video to him and the defendants for review.

The video has become a sticking point between lawyers for Erin Johnson, the JWT communications chief whose March 10 suit alleges Mr. Martinez made "racist and sexist slurs," and the lawyers representing Mr. Martinez, JWT and parent company WPP. On March 14, Ms. Johnson's team filed an amended suit that sought to submit a DVD into evidence, saying the disc "contains an excerpt of the video footage from the May 2015 meeting in Miami."

That was a reference to a company off-site where Ms. Johnson's original suit said Mr. Martinez made inappropriate comments. "On or about May 18, 2015, Martinez addressed a group of approximately 60 employees for a global meeting to pilot a new agency method for generating ideas," the suit said. "The previous night, there had been a large party at the hotel's night club attended by mostly African American guests. At the start of his presentation, Martinez described the hotel as 'tricky.' He explained that he 'found . . . different and strange characters in the elevator.' He further explained, 'I was thinking I was going to be raped at the elevator,' but 'not in a nice way.'"

In a letter last Thursday, an attorney for the defendants objected to the inclusion of the video, arguing in part that it contains proprietary information about an internal business process. He also said his clients had not seen a copy of the video. Ms. Johnson, the letter said, "directed the videographer to delete the portion of the tape that is referred to in the Amended Complaint and the raw footage of the meeting was thereafter destroyed."

The letter said Ms. Johnson kept the only copy of the full version of the video, a copy it said JWT had not known existed.

Ms. Johnson's lawyers responded that the video contains nothing confidential and had "safeguarded" only "out of concern about the biased conduct that it reflected."

On Monday, Judge J. Paul Oetken said he wanted to to see the video -- and that the defendents should have the same opportunity.

"Plaintiff is directed to deliver a copy of the video to the Court's chambers for review in camera," Mr. Oetken said in an order. "Plaintiff is also directed to serve a copy of the same video on Defendants. Defendants may file any further letter or motion regarding the video within one week of the date of service."

Ms. Johnson's case mentions other alleged events and says other executives witnessed the alleged comments by Mr. Martinez.

After JWT initially said internal reviews did not find any substantiation for Ms. Johnson's claims, the agency last week hired an external law firm, Proskauer Rose, to conduct an investigation.

Mr. Martinez on Thursday resigned "by mutual agreement," succeeded by WPP executive Tamara Ingram.

A representative for JWT did not have a comment on today's order and referred back to the letter on the video from Thursday. Ms. Johnson's attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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