TBWA May Get Dragged Into JWT Sex Discrimination Lawsuit

Remember that sex discrimination lawsuit against JWT and WPP that very quickly resulted in the resignation of JWT global chief Gustavo Martinez?  Well, more than 16 months after it was filed by the agency’s top communications executive, Erin Johnson? It’s still going on.

Many cases like this settle quickly and quietly — but this one looks like it’s going the distance. 

Now U.S. Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV has ruled that JWT (and parent WPP) and Martinez can drag TBWA and possibly other agencies into the case. Or try to anyway.

Last week, Francis granted WPP and JWT’s motion compelling Johnson to produce documents related to her efforts to secure alternative employment for the period from a few months prior to Martinez’s alleged reign of terror at JWT to the present. He also granted a similar motion by Martinez that’s narrower in scope and focused on TBWA. 

It turns out—or so Johnson claims—that TBWA wanted to hire her as their top PR executive in 2016 amid some of the alleged discriminatory shenanigans being pulled by Martinez. Ultimately, the TBWA job was filled by Anaka Kobzev, who (somewhat ironically) was a subordinate of Johnson’s at JWT. 



About a month before Johnson filed her suit on March 10, 2016, she emailed Martinez, writing: “Hey. To brag a little. They came after me first for this role and I didn’t go because I am loyal to you and what you are doing. I felt like we had a good year together. So I hope I wasn’t wrong to stay. Lol.” 

Wait what?

With all the inappropriate touching, sexist comments and retaliatory behavior that had gone on, she "felt like they had a good year together"? Makes you wonder about her definition of loyalty, especially if all that alleged bad behavior on Martinez’s part was true. Sounds like the kind of loyalty the victim of a wife-beater has — which is to say, very unhealthy and misguided. 

It was just 10 days after that “Lol” missive that Johnson’s lawyers sent a letter to defendants indicating she was the victim of discrimination and retaliation that had taken place over the months since Martinez became JWT CEO in early 2015. Johnson’s formal lawsuit was filed about two weeks later. 

Johnson asked the judge to deny the motions, but he ruled the information being sought is relevant on a number of levels and that her claim that such details, if exposed, could hurt future employment prospects was “far-fetched.” 

Well, looks like this case could get a lot more interesting than it already is. Can’t wait to see how TBWA reacts to any subpoena(s) from the defendants. As Judge Francis noted in his decision, the defendants are free to serve them, and TBWA is free to object on any available grounds. 

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