Discrimination Case Dismissed; Former Creative Director May Appeal
NEW YORK–A state Supreme Court jury has dismissed claims by former worldwide creative director Helayne Spivak that she was discriminated against by J. Walter Thompson and then defamed by the agency after she resigned in 1997.
Spivak originally sought $25 million in damages [Adweek, July 5, 1999], claiming “negligent misrepresentation,” breach of contract and defamation, among other allegations. But the final suit sought $13 million and claimed gender discrimination. She also claimed she was defamed in a Nov. 24, 1997 Adweek story.
The article included two passages Spivak cited as evidence that CEO Chris Jones had defamed her. One described a scene in which he told a staffer, “The agency has been overmanaged and underled,” while the other simply noted, “He [Jones] has said he will not replace Spivak.”
The jury found that the second passage was not defamatory and the first was, sources said. Nevertheless, jurors decided that “overmanaged and underled” did not specifically refer to her.
The jury also found no basis for Spivak’s gender discrimination claim, which arose from her characterization of the agency–in court papers–as an “old boy’s club” where she alleged she was undermined and belittled by Jones.
The trial here lasted six days; both Spivak and Jones testified.
Jones cited his record of appointing women to senior management positions, including chief marketing officer Mary Baglivo, executive vice president of strategy and entertainment Marina Hahn and director of North American media services Jean Pool, who testified in his defense, sources said.
JWT also submitted as evidence the resignation letter that Jones received from Spivak, which stated in part, “I appreciate the desire you’ve expressed for me to stay and for your support. I have nothing but good things to say about my time here.”
On the stand, however, Spivak recalled times when she felt undermined because of her gender, sources said. Spivak’s side also called a psychologist who described emotional distress suffered by Spivak, in part due to her experience at JWT. Another witness was an economist who estimated that she had lost $13 million in earnings, sources said. An economist who testified for JWT put the figure at $265,000.
Despite the verdict, the jury did not order Spivak to repay part of a $260,000 signing bonus in 1996. JWT had sought $65,000 back,
since she left before her three-year contract had expired.
Spivak declined comment but implied that an appeal was in the works. “I’m not going to talk about it until the whole thing is over,” she said. “I’m not that fat, but I’m not singing.” Added her attorney, Murray Schwartz, “The verdict demands that it should be subjected to the appellate process.”
A JWT representative said, “Let the decision speak for itself.”