Johnson: WPP, JWT 'Want It Both Ways'

Erin Johnson, chief communications officer at J. Walter Thompson, has urged a New York Court not to seal a video of an agency meeting in Miami where Ex-CEO Gustavo Martinez allegedly made a joke about rape and racist remarks. She is suing Martinez, the agency and WPP for sex harassment and retaliation.

The request came in response to an appeal by the defendants last week to seal the video arguing that JWT officials seen on the video but not named in the suit had a right to privacy. They also said that Johnson had taken Martinez’s comments out of context and that the remarks — perhaps not well chosen given his lack of command of the English language -- were aimed at relieving tension due to events that occurred at Miami’s Viceroy hotel where the meeting took place. Those events included a wild party the night before JWT’s morning meeting, and what was thought to have been a case of theft from the room where one of the JWT attendees was staying. (The theft turned out to be a mistake by hotel staff).



Johnson told the court in her latest filing that defendants’ privacy plea was “absurd” in light of the fact that many of those executives seen on the tape also swore in a public filing that they did not take offense at Martinez’s comments given the context in which they were made. She also said that the First Amendment of the Constitution and common law right of access warranted that the video remain public.

“The video confirms and is integral to [Johnson’s] allegations of bias including Martinez’s repeated comments about raping JWT employees,” Johnson said in her filing.

Johnson also argued that the video confirmed what she has argued from the beginning of her case and what defendants previously denied — that Martinez made any comments at all that could be construed as sexist or racist in nature. “Defendants’ statements, to employees, clients and the press, that ‘there is absolutely no truth to [Johnson’s] outlandish allegations’ are now admitted to be false.”

The plaintiff also took issue with defendants' “language barrier” argument, noting that in many earlier statements, the agency had highlighted Martinez’s fluency in five languages, including English.

“Defendants again want it both ways,” Johnson argued. “They want to have Martinez’s comments, including the ‘rape joke’ viewed by all as innocuous, and certainly not possible of evidence of bias. But at the same time they want to make sure that the video does not see the light of day for fear it would cause ‘reputational harm’ to JWT.” But such harm, she asserted “will be caused by [the agency’s] refusal to remediate Martinez’s obvious and open discriminatory actions and defendants’ retaliation against those who have dared to complain.”

And the plaintiff added that the Miami meeting is just one example of what she claims constitutes a pattern of sexist, racist, harassing and retaliatory behavior on the part of Martinez, JWT and the holding company. The case, she said, "will be judged on the 'totality of the evidence.' Martinez’s 'rape joke' in Miami is but one of many comments he made and actions he took which were unlawful. The video that records that portion of Martinez’s biased conduct thus is integral to the Complaint."

Separately, Martinez has now hired his own legal team, from the firm of Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, and is no longer represented by the WPP and JWT firm, Davis & Gilbert. 

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