Dentsu’s Legal War Heats Up

NEW YORK It appears Dentsu is anticipating a legal showdown with former agency creative director Steve Biegel, who filed a harassment and discrimination lawsuit against top executives at the company in October.

Dentsu has engaged heavyweight employment law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius to represent the agency, which had relied on its corporate attorneys Davis & Gilbert to file a motion-to-dismiss action last month.

On Dec. 9, Biegel filed his response, urging the court not to grant Dentsu’s petition to dismiss his suit. He argued there are “disputed facts on almost every material issue,” and focused on an anti-Semitism allegation made in his original complaint but not accompanied by specific detail. His latest filing states that anti-Semitism is rife at Dentsu, in violation of both federal and state statutes. He claimed that “while once one-half of Dentsu’s creative department was filled by Jews, within one year [Biegel] and all the other Jews in the department were eliminated, and none were replaced by Jews.”

A Dentsu representative declined comment.

The discrimination goes further, Biegel claimed, all the way to the top of Dentsu America, a position currently held by Douglas Fidoten, who is a Jew. Dentsu, the plaintiff said, “raises Douglas Fidoten as proof that they employ Jews in high positions of power. However, we submit that discovery will show that [Dentsu officials] have openly discussed firing Mr. Fidoten. Further, even as he remains at Dentsu while this suit is pending, we submit discovery will show that he has been stripped of his powers, and that his Gentile subordinate [Mike Wilson] and his Gentile boss (Tim Andree) are actually making the decisions, running the agency behind Mr. Fidoten’s back. . . . ”

Biegel’s original complaint, rife with sensational accusations, was filed against top Dentsu North American exec Toyo Shigeta and agency CEO Andree. In June 2006, Shigeta brought Andree in to run the agency and promoted Fidoten, then an agency vp, to president. Andree hired Wilson in November of that year, saying he was looking for a creative partner who would report directly to him.

Fidoten, an 11-year veteran at the agency, didn’t return calls for comment. But in an Adweek interview last month, he denied anti-Semitism plays a role in the agency’s management decisions. (The agency has also secured an affidavit from Scott Weitz, a staffer at Driver Media who was with Biegel and Shigeta on a Canon commercial reshoot in Prague, where Biegel alleges Shigeta forced him to visit a brothel.) In his statement, Weitz, who said he and Biegel are “social friends,” also disputes Biegel’s claims of anti-Semiticism at Dentsu.

Andrew Dwyer, Biegel’s attorney, declined comment. But last month he told Adweek: “We’re not going to prove these discrimination cases with direct evidence. We’re going to prove this with circumstantial evidence. [Before Andree became CEO] Dentsu’s creative department was 50 percent Jewish, which is not that unusual in advertising creative departments in the U.S., particularly the metro New York area. Andree said he wanted to take the creative department in a new direction and Steve Biegel and [his boss, creative director] Ron Rosen, both Jewish, were fired. Subsequently, the rest of the Jewish [creative department] employees are gone in less than year.”

Rosen could not be reached for comment.

In his latest filing, Biegel also alleged further illegal wrongdoing by Dentsu after company officials suggested in a Nov. 5 Adweek article about the suit that Biegel committed fraud in reporting business expenses and questioned his “professional competence.” The comments, Biegel argued, constituted an additional instance of illegal retaliation as well as defamation.

Biegel also argued that Dentsu was attempting to use inappropriate legal maneuvers to have the court dismiss the case summarily, in a way that would deny Biegel discovery procedures supporting his case. “Defendant’s motion is really one of for summary judgment, except that it is made in procedural context where plaintiff has been denied all discovery, as well as a fair chance to lay relevant evidence on the record,” his filing stated.