Biegel Filing Condemns Dentsu Agency Culture

Latest Court Documents Claim Sexual-Harassment Complaints Were Discouraged

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NEW YORK ( -- The legal tussle between creative executive Steve Biegel and his former employer, Dentsu, continued to play out in court yesterday following a judge's request this month that Mr. Biegel submit additional evidence detailing when and to whom he complained about incidents of sexual harassment that allegedly took place during his three years as an employee at the U.S. arm of the Japanese-owned agency.

The most recent court filings -- the latest in a litany of legal maneuvering that started in October -- claim Mr. Biegel was subjected to sexually harassing behavior but was discouraged to complain about it amidst an agency culture that was "slavishly deferential" to superiors.

In October, Mr. Biegel, who formerly served as senior VP-group creative director at Dentsu, filed a salacious lawsuit against Dentsu, Dentsu Holdings CEO Toyo Shigeta and Dentsu America CEO Timothy Andree. That suit contained claims of harassment, discrimination and retaliation that the company and two senior executives are aiming to get dismissed.

Filled with fear
In the latest batch of court documents, Mr. Biegel portrayed Mr. Shigeta in particular as a volatile tyrant and described the workplace atmosphere at Dentsu America as one filled with fear.

According to the court papers, Mr. Shigeta used his power as the company's highest official to force Mr. Biegel and other employees to participate in so-called required company outings, including visits to a Czech brothel and a Japanese bathhouse, which Mr. Biegel previously described in lurid detail.

"It did not make a great deal of sense to me to complain directly to Mr. Shigeta about his own conduct," Mr. Biegel said in the documents. "This was particularly so because the atmosphere at Dentsu was one where I frequently felt employees were at risk of being fired at whim by Mr. Shigeta. Mr. Shigeta would periodically fly into rages and scream at employees, threatening to fire them."

According to Mr. Biegel, the one time he did confront Mr. Shigeta to say he was considering complaining to human resources about the harrassing incidents, the executive threatened to fire him.

Mr. Biegel stated he could not recall "being told by anyone at Dentsu anything about a sexual-harassment policy" or "the issue being addressed in any kind of meeting or training." While Mr. Biegel did not indicate having made any formal written complaint, he claims that on various occasions he verbally complained to his immediate supervisor at the time, Ron Rosen, and Dentsu America President Doug Fidoten, to little avail.

Vow to fight back
When Mr. Biegel initially filed his salacious suit last fall, Dentsu vowed to fight back. But in late November the agency, along with Messrs. Shigeta and Andree, filed a motion to dismiss the complaint instead. That motion questioned why Mr. Biegel waited to file suit till nearly a year after his termination in November 2006 and called his allegations bogus -- nothing than a last-ditch effort to squeeze dollars out of Dentsu. Mr. Biegel had already shown a prepared draft of his October lawsuit to some of Dentsu's biggest clients and attempted to extract more than $1 million from the ad agency, Dentsu said.

Based on a letter Judge McMahon sent to attorneys in the case earlier this month (the same one asking for supplemental information from Mr. Biegel), a number of the claims the defendants are seeking to dismiss will be not be dismissed.

Mr. Biegel's attorney, Andrew Dwyer, could not be immediately reached, while a Dentsu spokesman, Steve Ellwanger, declined to comment on the latest filing. Previously, he said that Dentsu, which has since changed legal representation to the firm of Morgan Lewis & Bockius from Davis & Gilbert, would fire back with an action of its own if Judge McMahon does not throw Mr. Biegel's suit out of court.
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