WPP Drops Opposition to Entering Video Into Evidence in JWT Suit

Says Recording Reveals 'Misleading Nature' of Allegations Against Agency and Gustavo Martinez

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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.

For all the arguing that WPP has done over the last few weeks to keep an allegedly damning video under wraps, it's now changing its mind.

In a filing Monday morning, WPP lawyers said they're happy to see the video in evidence in Erin Johnson's lawsuit against J. Walter Thompson and former agency chairman-CEO Gustavo Martinez, as long as other employees' faces are obscured.

Ms. Johnson, chief communications officer at JWT, said in her original March 10 lawsuit that Mr. Martinez made multiple racist and sexist comments during his tenure, some of which were captured on video. Her lawyers sought to submit the video, of a company meeting in a Miami hotel, via an amended lawsuit on March 14.

After a judge ordered Ms. Johnson's camp to send the video to the court and to JWT for review, lawyers for JWT and WPP filed a motion for a protective order to seal the video. They also filed a joint affidavit from several JWT employees, including New York President Lynn Power and Chief Creative Officer Matt Eastwood, saying Mr. Martinez's comments at the meeting were not offensive.

Today WPP's attorneys said Ms. Johnson had addressed their initial concern, that the recording contained proprietary information about the agency's internal work processes, by agreeing to exclude that part of the meeting. Their later effort to seal the video reflected only the desire to protect employees' privacy, they said.

"In light of the Declarations from women, minorities and others in the room that show that the comments on the Video were, in context, not offensive, the Video actually demonstrates the misleading nature of the allegations in the Amended Complaint," the WPP team wrote. "Accordingly, if the Court orders that Plaintiff edit out the faces of the people in the Video (other than Martinez), Defendants have no objection to the filing of the Video since they have argued from the outset that the words Martinez spoke on the Video are already in the Amended Complaint and they did not create a hostile work environment."

Attorneys for Ms. Johnson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

In their affadavit, the JWT employees said Mr. Martinez had made remarks that they would not have, but was only trying to lighten the mood on the morning after an allegedly rowdy party. "Given the content of the highly unusual events occurring at the hotel in the night before the meetings, combined with Gustavo's lack of command of the English language and the fact that he was making a joke about himself, we did not find the comments he made offensive," they said.

According to the original lawsuit, "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.'"

Mr. Martinez resigned on March 17.

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