JWT, WPP 'Speechless' After Johnson's Latest Retaliation Claims

They’re speechless.

That’s how J. Walter Thompson and parent company WPP responded today to a claim made last week by Erin Johnson that the agency’s retaliatory behavior had “escalated” since her return to work earlier this month after an eight-month paid leave of absence.

She’s asked the U.S. District Court in New York hearing the case for an injunction barring the behavior. JWT and WPP responded that there’s no retaliatory behavior to enjoin.

Johnson sued the companies and JWT’s former CEO Gustavo Martinez in March for sex harassment and retaliation. Martinez stepped down shortly after Johnson, the agency’s Chief Communications Officer, filed suit.



She went on paid leave shortly before the suit was filed.

The agency noted that it was Johnson who requested the paid leave in the first place. Eight months later, they argued in their letter to the Court filed Tuesday, it’s time for Johnson to get back to work and earn her paycheck.

The agency told Judge J. Paul Oetken that it has asked Johnson repeatedly to return to work after the departure of her alleged sex harasser Martinez back in March.

“Defendants have not only bent over backwards to accommodate each and every request Plaintiff has made, but the company has taken extraordinary steps to address concerns she raised,” the companies stated in their response.

In her complaint filed last week, Johnson alleged that the defendants had violated agreed-to terms for her return to work that called for her to resume all of her previous duties, including talking to the press. However, Johnson alleged that upon her return, the agency effectively put a gag order on her, barring her from speaking with the press and giving her work that was “at levels far below the work she did in her former position.”

In fact, the defendant’s argued it was Johnson who first raised concerns about her ability to continue dealing with the press with the lawsuit still pending. As for the level of work, they contended that the agency wanted Johnson to work with current JWT CEO Tamara Ingram on strategic matters and also work with the CEO on implementing a new diversity initiative.  

Defendants also took issue with Johnson’s contention that she was “put in a box” upon her return to work, words that Johnson attributed to Ingram in describing her new office environment. Those were Johnson’s words, not Ingram’s they asserted.

There is no box, the defendants argued, just the opposite, as the agency redesigned its office space during Johnson’s absence to an “open-plan setup” that doesn’t have offices or cubicles.

Johnson also asserted that defendants’ actions made her a “pariah” at the office. If she feels that way, they argued, “that feeling is entirely of her own doing.”

At the start of the action back in March, they noted, Johnson “gratuitously named various non-party employees in her complaint and sought to make public a video depicting these employee’s faces….it would not be surprising if company employees find it awkward or unsettling to talk to her as they are now aware that the content of such conversations (and perhaps their identities) may be used as fodder for Plaintiff’s lawsuit.”

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