WPP and J. Walter Thompson argued in new court filings in the JWT sex harassment case that comments made by former agency CEO Gustavo Martinez at a company meeting in Miami last year were taken out of context and that Martinez was trying to alleviate an uncomfortable situation at the hotel.
They claim he was not creating a hostile work environment as purported by the plaintive JWT chief communications officer Erin Johnson.
The agency and holding company filed a slew of declarations from top JWT executives who were at the meeting. They contended there was nothing untoward, sexist or racist about Martinez’s comments — including a quip that he was worried about being raped in a hotel elevator and “not in a good way” — given their context. They cite events that had occurred at the hotel meeting site the night before the agency meeting.
There had been a wild and raucous pool party [that Johnson claimed in her complaint was attended by a mostly African American crowd] that JWT staffers were not involved with and that the police were called in to investigate.
Johnson has filed a video of Martinez making the comments at Miami’s Viceroy hotel with the judge hearing the case, J. Paul Oetken of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan. The judge is currently considering whether to allow it to be admitted as an official document in the proceeding.
WPP has asked the judge to seal the video if he does allow its submission, out of privacy and other concerns regarding JWT executives who are seen in the video but not named in the lawsuit.
Some of the declarations noted that executives had been contacted by a reporter about the Miami video and meeting and asked for comment. WPP argued that information about who was seen in the video was leaked to the press.
The video and the declarations, WPP argued, show that Johnson’s amended complaint (asking to admit the video) has “wrenched an innocent incident entirely out of context and exaggerated its significance.”
When the video is viewed “in the context of the highly unusual and disturbing events that occurred at the hotel, and given Martinez’s lack of command of the English language and the fact that he was making a [rape] joke about himself, it is clear that Martinez was trying to alleviate the significant tension that JWT employees were feeling,” the company argued.
Sworn declarations were filed by a number of JWT executives at the Miami meeting, including Lynn Power, president of J Walter Thompson NY. She filed both a joint declaration, with more than a dozen other high-level JWT executives from around the globe that came to Miami for the meeting, and separate declaration stating she’d been contacted by the press for comment.
In addition to Power, the joint declaration was also signed by Sefano Zunino CEO of JWT’s North America region, Amy Avery, global head of analytics for the agency, Matt Eastwood, Chief Creative Officer and a number of others.
The executives said they supported the company’s request to have the video sealed and swore that they did not find Martinez’s comments offensive, given the surrounding circumstances.
“Given 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 [in the case of the rape comment], we did not find the comments he made offensive,” the declaration stated.
And while “we would not have chosen the same words he did,” the joint declaration added: “It was clear that Gustavo was trying to ease the tension that we were all feeling and the people in the room seem to appreciate his attempt to do so.”
According to WPP’s court document, on the night before the JWT meeting where Martinez made the comments, the JWT team had gone to a dinner away from the hotel where they were staying. Upon their return by bus at around 10:30 p.m., the raucous party was in full swing (with partiers in various states of undress).
Police were on the scene and a number of the JWT people found themselves stepping over “puddles of vomit” to get back into the hotel lobby area.
There was also a mix up with the luggage of one JWT executive—Portugal CEO Susana Carvalho. After returning from dinner to her hotel room, she discovered that her luggage was gone. She reported it stolen and sent an email to Martinez in the middle of the night reporting what had occurred.
It turned out that the hotel staff had mistakenly removed the luggage, although Martinez did not know that when he commented at the meeting the following morning that Carvalho’s room “had been very visited tonight,” and that JWT attendees should “check their luggage and their stuff.”
Charlotte Ibarra, manager of events and special projects at JWT, acknowledged in a separate declaration hearing an earful from colleagues about the goings on at the hotel.
Ibarra was more than a bit concerned herself, given that the morning meeting at the hotel was set to be staged in the same area that the party was going on. In her declaration, she noted that she went to check on the area at 4:30 a.m. and found a complete mess outside the intended meeting room. The pool deck was trashed, and there were “condoms floating in the pool, which was oddly murky.”
Also, Ibarra stated, “The windows between the pool deck and the meeting room had butt cheek imprints, which had to be washed away.” A nearby elevator had also been broken by the party attendees, she said.
The meeting room and surrounding area were cleaned up by the time the JWT meeting began, Ibarra said. And while she heard lots of complaints about the hotel throughout the two day meeting, she declared that “nobody complained to me, nor did I hear that anyone complained to someone else about any comment Gustavo made at the meeting.”
She was not offended herself, she added, noting that JWT was reimbursed from the hotel for the unpleasantness caused by the party and other issues.