Last week J. Walter Thompson Chief Communications Officer Erin Johnson went back to work, her sex harassment and retaliation lawsuit still ongoing. Yesterday, her lawyers went back to court, telling the Judge overseeing the case that Johnson continues to be retaliated against. In fact, they argued, the retaliation has “escalated.”
In a letter dated Nov. 10 to J. Paul Oetken, the U.S. District Court Judge in New York who is hearing the case, Johnson through her lawyers requested a conference to discuss a preliminary injunction to prevent the alleged retaliation from continuing.
According to the letter, it was agreed that when Johnson went back to work she would assume her previous role and duties.
Instead, the letter asserts, Johnson has been “put in a box” -- words Johnson attributed agency CEO Tamara Ingram (to whom she reports) to describe her current at-work status. Before she went on leave shortly before her suit was filed in March, Johnson frequently talked to the press as part of her duties as Chief Communications Officer.
Now she asserts that she is barred from talking to the press, which she described as a “central function of her former position.” She is also barred from working with her former staff and is seated in a cubicle in front of JWT’s human resources head where her “every action can be closely monitored. Johnson has virtually no work to do. The few assignments she has received are at levels far below the work she did in her former position. As a result of defendants’ retaliatory actions plaintiff is nothing more than a pariah at JWT.”
The letter also asserts that during her leave the agency’s retaliatory actions continued as agency officials bad-mouthed her at the office and in public in part to dissuade co-workers from stepping forward and serving as witnesses in her case. “Defendants’ plans have succeeded,” the letter stated. “Plaintiff has learned from several sources that due to the obvious retaliatory attacks on her, personally and professionally, her coworkers are afraid of coming forward.”
Johnson also asserted that the reduced role at the office and placement in “the box” is intended to make her quit. “JWT has positioned Johnson as a suspect character, not fit to supervise staff, communicate with the press or her former colleagues or otherwise to reassume the job that she had performed successfully for a decade,” per the latest lawyer letter.
“Such demeaning treatment,” it added, has resulted in co-workers now shunning Johnson at work, “lest JWT isolate them in similar fashion,” and will induce them to be “more than reluctant to testify to their observations of defendants’ discriminatory and retaliatory treatment.”
The agency has not yet responded in court to the letter.