Minority Hiring Probe Targets Manhattan Ad Agencies

New York City Human Rights Commission Plans Public Hearings

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Advertising agencies are arming themselves with legal counsel to combat New York City investigators looking into top shops' ethnic-minority practices.

New York City's Human Rights Commission has taken aim at Manhattan's largest ad agencies.

The law firm representing WPP Group, the parent company of Ogilvy & Mather and Young & Rubicam, has hired Bill Lynch, a former New York deputy mayor and ex-vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, to lobby city politicians and agencies that are scrutinizing both minority-hiring policies and the way in which shops spend multicultural budgets.

Moving 'aggressively'
The New York City Commission on Human Rights last November launched a data-gathering effort to examine the minority hiring practices of the city's largest shops. Initially described as "fact-finding," the probe has recently been upgraded to an "investigation," said a commission spokeswoman. "We are moving ahead on this as aggressively as we can."

Earlier this spring, City Council members Larry Seabrook and James Sanders Jr. announced plans to convene public hearings to examine how agencies have spent taxpayer money for federal government advertising accounts, particularly in regard to minority audiences.

Howard Rubin, a partner at WPP's law firm, Davis & Gilbert, hired Mr. Lynch, now president of political consulting firm Bill Lynch Associates, New York, in April.

"The issues affect people of color and I'm always concerned that people of color are treated fairly and that corporations that are accused of not treating people of color fairly get a fair hearing," Mr. Lynch said. "I have something to offer both sides here."

Luncheon meeting
Earlier this month, he arranged a luncheon meeting that included City Council members Messrs. Seabrook and Sanders and Mr. Rubin. "I'm trying to help [Davis & Gilbert] establish a dialogue with those two city entities. I've known [Messrs. Seabrook and Sanders] for a while."

Mr. Lynch said he and Mr. Rubin are also seeking to meet with Patricia Gatling, head of the Commission on Human Rights, but no date has yet been set. People close to the talks said a meeting was scheduled for yesterday. A commission spokeswoman would not comment.

O. Burtch Drake, president-CEO of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, has also sought to meet with Ms. Gatling on behalf of agencies that have received requests from the commission. A 4A's spokesman confirmed a meeting with the commission for yesterday. Mr. Lynch said he is not acting for the 4A's, but only on behalf of the law firm.

The commission sent letters to Manhattan's largest agencies in November, asking for the number of agency employees; a breakdown of those employees by job categories; and an analysis of employee race and ethnicity within each job category. The commission's jurisdiction includes the ability to prosecute discrimination based on race, creed, color and national origin in employment, public accommodations and housing, as well as commercial space. Those found to have violated the law face fines as well as other penalties.

The City Council hearings, initially set for May 4, are to be rescheduled for the coming weeks, and will focus attention on how public money is spent and examine the efficacy of media efforts in reaching minority audiences.

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