Lawyers Say They Have Emails Showing JWT Was Told About Exec's Behavior

Agency Said It Will Comment at the Appropriate Time

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JWT's Gustavo Martinez
JWT's Gustavo Martinez Credit: JWT

Lawyers for JWT Chief Communications Officer Erin Johnson say they have an email exchange documenting their client's attempts to alert the agency to complaints about Chairman-CEO Gustavo Martinez.

Ms. Johnson filed a discrimination lawsuit last week against the WPP agency and its chief executive, claiming among other things that Mr. Martinez made numerous "racist and sexist slurs."

Aside from details of the numerous alleged incidents, the 28-page lawsuit claims that despite Ms. Johnson alerting other people to the issues and having tape of at least one incident, nothing was done by the agency.

Lawyers for Ms. Johnson say they have an email exchange from Ms. Johnson to the agency's chief talent officer, Laura Agostini, in which Ms. Johnson follows up on a request to get Mr. Martinez sensitivity training, showing that she had alerted other officers to the issue.

The lawyers also said that there is a tape of a company meeting in Miami in May, which captures Mr. Martinez making jokes about rape and African-Americans.

"On or about May 21, 2015, Johnson met with Agostini to complain about Martinez's racist and sexist comments in Miami and New York," said the complaint. "Johnson stressed the importance of having someone speak to Martinez immediately. Johnson suggested that Martinez receive sensitivity training and that a WPP lawyer talk to him about his statements."

The suit continues: "Later that day, on or about May 21, 2015, Johnson sent an email to Agostini: '[F]ollowing up . . . [f]rom our conversation re [Martinez] and the [M]iami meeting issue. We need to bring in someone to help address this so he understands.' Agostini replied by email to Johnson that she 'had a conversation with [Martinez]' and was 'addressing' Johnson's concerns."

But, according to the complaint, nothing happened. "Despite Agostini's promise to 'address' Johnson's complaints, to Johnson's knowledge defendants failed to take any remedial action. In mid-February 2016, Johnson specifically asked Agostini if anyone had talked to Martinez about his rape comments. Agostini replied that an in-house attorney was supposed to do so, but did not confirm that the conversation actually took place."

For its part, JWT said it was conducting a review of the situation. A statement issued by JWT on Friday said, "We received the lawsuit on Thursday and take these kinds of allegations very seriously. Gustavo Martinez has asserted that the allegations are false. Following our standard practice, we are undertaking a thorough review of the matter and will comment further at the appropriate time and in the course of the litigation."

That statement was released a day after WPP sent an internal memo to senior agency execs, which WPP encouraged execs to disseminate to clients. It said: "WPP lawyers have been conducting an inquiry into previous correspondence on these matters since Feb 25 and has found nothing as yet to substantiate these charges," according to a person who has seen the memo.

Ad Age on Sunday asked representatives for WPP and JWT if they had knowledge of an email sent to Ms. Johnson that said Ms. Agostini was addressing her concerns and that she had talked to Mr. Martinez -- or if WPP and JWT had turned up other emails and the tape that Ms. Johnson's lawyers have confirmed exist.

A representative said via email: "We will comment further at the appropriate time in the litigation."

Ms. Johnson's email to Ms. Agostini, chief talent officer, came just days after a meeting in May in Miami at the Viceroy Hotel. At the meeting, according to the suit: "Martinez addressed a group of approximately 60 employees for a global meeting to pilot a new agency method for generating ideas. 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.'"

The suit continues: "During this same presentation, Martinez warned the JWT employees to be careful at the hotel. Apparently referencing the African American party the previous night, he stated, 'Check all your luggage' and 'all your stuff.'"

The suit also said that Ms. Johnson had conversations with multiple senior executives at the agency about Mr. Martinez's behavior, and said that many personally witnessed several of the incidents. It noted that after Ms. Johnson did not see anyone take action and her job became difficult to perform, her lawyers sent a letter to defendants saying she believed she had been subject to unlawful discrimination and retaliation, and it was then that the company would investigate her claims.

Ms. Johnson also, according to the suit, tried to talk to Mr. Martinez about the Miami event. "On or about May 20, 2015, Johnson met with Martinez in New York. Johnson told Martinez that his comments about rape made her uncomfortable and that it was not acceptable to talk about rape. Martinez became angry and aggressive. He demanded to know the names of the employees present at the Miami meeting who had complained about his comments. He told Johnson that 'she was wrong' and that 'American women are too sensitive.'"

The suit continues: "After their conversation, approximately fifteen or twenty minutes later, Martinez walked toward Johnson's desk, situated in an open seating plan directly across from the men's bathroom. In front of numerous employees, Martinez told Johnson to come to him so he could 'rape [her]' in the bathroom. He then grabbed Johnson around the neck with his arm and began laughing. Later that day, Martinez interrupted a meeting among multiple female employees, including Johnson. Martinez asked Johnson in front of the other women which female staff member he could rape."

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