WPP has not wasted much time reassuring employees about the charges levied in a lawsuit against JWT chief executive Gustavo Martinez.
The holding company today sent a memo to senior agency execs that 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. Another person corroborated the message, which noted that people were free to disseminate to clients.
A discrimination suit was filed this morning in Manhattan federal court against the WPP agency and its worldwide Chairman-CEO Gustavo Martinez. The suit was brought by JWT's longtime communications executive Erin Johnson, claiming the executive made "racist and sexist slurs."
"As Chief Communications Officer, Johnson reports directly to the Worldwide Chairman and Chief Executive Officer ('CEO') and oversees global corporate communications for JWT, including both external and internal communications," the suit said. "Her career progressed without impediment until 2015, when JWT appointed Martinez as its Chair and CEO." The suit goes on to say that Ms. Johnson had difficulty maintaining her duties, particularly promoting the company. Promoting it "internally and externally in a positive light has become virtually impossible given Martinez's apparent comfort in making constant racist and sexist slurs, even on tape."
The suit alleges that Mr. Martinez made extremely disparaging and racist comments, including in conversations with employees, senior execs and a reporter. According to the suit, he had "no hesitation in referring in conversations with employees, including senior JWT executives, or the media, to his dislike of the 'fucking Jews,' his refusal to go places where he would encounter the 'black monkeys' or 'apes' who 'don't know how to use computers,' or to his publicly asked questions about which female staff member he should rape.'"
WPP did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the memo. JWT referred requests for comment to parent company WPP when Ad Age first reached out, and did not immediately respond. But WPP issued a statement from from Mr. Martinez reading: "I am aware of the allegations made against me by a J. Walter Thompson employee in a suit filed in New York Federal Court. I want to assure our clients and my colleagues that there is absolutely no truth to these outlandish allegations and I am confident that this will be proven in court."
Ad Age has reached out to a number of JWT's clients, asking them whether the account relationship is affected by the news. Not all responded, but Ford, which has a massive relationship with WPP through its Team Detroit moniker, said "WPP has informed us that these serious allegations are not true," a Ford spokeswoman said. JWT is part of the WPP team that supports Ford globally. The partnership remains unchanged, the spokeswoman said.
Another client, Johnson & Johnson, declined to comment.
At the same time, a handful of people who claim to be WPP staffers are calling for the resignation of Mauricio Sabogal, CEO of out-of-home media agency giant Kinetic Worldwide, in response to a blog post he wrote that they claim contains "offensive and discriminatory treatment and views of Americans," according to an email they sent to WPP CEO Martin Sorrell.
Mr. Sabogal, who is originally from Colombia, wrote the post in his native Spanish for Tumblr page "What's on Fire." He then tweeted a link to the post from his handle, @msabogalkw, on Jan. 22, 2015, when it was published. Both the tweet and blog post have since been removed.
Contributing: E.J.Schultz, Alexandra Bruell