Spivak Seeks Damages From JWT

Agency’s June 16 Filing Calls for Dismissal of Defamation Charges
NEW YORK–Helayne Spivak, J. Walter Thompson’s worldwide creative director until she resigned in October 1997, is suing her former employer for $25 million, claiming defamation and gender discrimination.
In papers filed in State Supreme Court in New York, Spivak claims JWT Worldwide chief executive officer Chris Jones set out to “undermine [her] credibility and competence in the presence of [her] colleagues,” specifically by removing significant areas of her authority and refusing to meet with her or return her calls.
“It was Jones’ intention, therefore, to make me appear before others as merely a pestering woman,” the suit states. Spivak filed her original claim on Feb. 8, 1999, which included other charges that have since been dismissed by the court.
Spivak claims the time gap between her resignation and the filing was due to her fear of the JWT “old boy’s club.”
Spivak claims she was defamed by JWT executives in ad trade journal reports, including a story titled “Overmanaged, Underled” that appeared in Adweek on Nov. 24, 1997. That story explored the events behind the departures of Spivak and then-CEO Susan Gianinno.
One passage at issue describes how JWT creative staffers complained Gianinno and Spivak “hijacked new business strategies at the 11th hour, confusing some and angering others.” Another reported that Jones had said he would not replace Spivak after her departure.
Spivak claims JWT allowed that information to be published and that, consequently, her reputation was badly tarnished and resulted in a permanent loss of earnings.
Spivak has not resurfaced in a permanent agency role since she left JWT. Davida Perry, one of her attorneys, said she is freelancing.
For its part, JWT filed papers June 16 calling for the defamation claims to be dismissed for lack of evidence.
Davis & Gilbert in New York, JWT attorneys, declined comment. It could not be determined if JWT would rebut the discrimination claim. Jones also declined comment.
Interestingly, two significant hires at JWT on Jones’ watch have both been women: chairman Charlotte Beers and, just recently, chief marketing officer Mary Baglivo.
“Look at the time frame [of those hires],” said Perry. “This is all after the fact [and] has no bearing on the case.” Spivak could not be reached.