In a sex harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed yesterday against J. Walter Thompson Global CEO Gustavo Martinez, Erin Johnson, the agency's chief communications officer, indicated that she complained to officials at the agency and its parent company WPP about Martinez’s alleged behavior. However, “no one took steps to correct Martinez’s conduct or otherwise demonstrated any inclination to stop his behavior,” she claimed.
While the agency and the holding company are not saying a lot about the case right now, WPP did issue a statement saying that company lawyers have been looking into the matter for about three weeks.
According to the statement, the lawyers so far have not found evidence to support Johnson’s charges.
Here’s the full statement: “WPP is aware of the suit filed in New York Federal Court today and the allegations made against Gustavo Martinez, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the J. Walter Thompson Company. WPP’s lawyers have been conducting an enquiry into previous correspondence on these matters since February 25 and have found nothing, as yet, to substantiate these charges.”
Also JWT itself has launched its own inquiry. The agency issued this statement on Friday: “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.”
As reported earlier, Martinez issued a statement through the holding company strongly denying all of Johnson’s allegations, which were filed in a complaint to the U.S. District Court in Manhattan. In addition to sexual harassment and retaliation, Johnson charged that Martinez regularly made inappropriate comments about rape and frequently made racial and anti-semitic slurs.
According to the lawsuit, the situation came to a head on February 19th when JWT's CFO issued an "internal business practices questionnaire" to Johnson and others at the agency. The questionnaire required Johnson to certify that she was "unaware of any unlawful conduct at JWT." The suit notes that she was "unable to do so given Martinez's discrimination and retaliation." She was given a deadline of Feb. 26 to return the questionnaire.
After Johnson's lawyers notified the agency on Feb. 22 that she believed she had been subjected to unlawful discrimination and retaliation, she was placed on paid leave. According to her complaint the agency and WPP responded on Feb. 25 that they would investigate Johnson's claims and that the investigation was expected to take about one week.
But the WPP statement suggests that the investigation is taking longer and is still ongoing. Presumably, the investigators at WPP and JWT will be comparing notes going forward on their parallel queries.