Hyundai Agency Innocean and CCO Eric Springer Sued for Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Retaliation

Former content director filed suit

Springer first joined the agency in 2016.

A lawsuit brought by a former executive at Hyundai’s Innocean Worldwide accuses the agency and its chief creative officer of sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination.

According to the suit filed on Jan. 11 in the Superior Court of Orange County, Calif., onetime Innocean director of content Victoria Guenier said she suffered repeated harassment under CCO Eric Springer, whom Guenier reported to, before being forced out of her job last May. She’s asking for unspecified damages including lost wages, benefits and legal fees.

In an interesting legal twist, the parties named in the case handled by attorneys Jennifer A. Clingo and Christopher P. Epsha of Los Angeles firm Clingo Law Group include not only the Innocean organization and Springer, but also 100 “John Does,” or unnamed stand-ins for the agency employees who allegedly facilitated the continuing abuse by refusing to act on the repeated complaints of Guenier and other women.

Innocean’s PR firm has not yet responded to repeated requests for comment on the case. Adweek reached out to Springer directly but had not received a response at the time this story went live.

Allegations of bullying

Innocean hired Geunier as an executive producer in April 2016. The agency veteran, who brought nearly two decades of experience to the role, alleges in the suit that Springer started mistreating her as soon as she joined the company.

“Springer routinely employed a bullying and harassing style that included intimidation by yelling and verbally insulting and cursing at defendants’ employees,” the lawsuit reads.

“Springer made plaintiff and other female employees feel physically threatened by standing over them … invad[ing] plaintiff’s personal space and routinely yell[ing] in plaintiff’s face,” according to the document, which says Springer created “a hostile work environment” for many women who grew to fear his “unpredictable conduct and/or outbursts in the workplace.”

The suit also alleges that the creative leader discriminated against female employees by using sexually suggestive or misogynistic language, belittling them in front of colleagues and initiating unwanted physical contact.

For example, the lawsuit claims that Springer “engaged in unlawful touching by slapping [Guenier] on her rear end upon greeting her on two separate occasions,” adding that “in each instance, Springer slapped plaintiff from the underside of her rear end, catching her by surprise.”

Springer also allegedly addressed Guenier using nicknames like “Queenie” and “honey bunny.” In a meeting attended by four senior male colleagues, Guenier claims that Springer told her, “Pull yourself up by your panties, Victoria.”

On another occasion, Guenier alleges, the chief creative asked about a job applicant: “Did you fuck him? Come on, did you fuck him?”

The defendants respond

On Feb. 23, more than a month after the initial filing, Innocean’s law firm, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, filed a response in which it argued that Guenier failed to prove she suffered “any injury, damage or loss by reasons of any act of omission or negligence” on the part of Innocean, Springer or the 100 John Does named in the suit.

The firm also asserts that Guenier waited too long to file her lawsuit and that any damages suffered may be attributed to “unclean hands with respect to the events upon which the complaint … [is] based.” The response does not specify how Guenier’s “carelessness” and “negligence” allegedly facilitated the events described in her complaint beyond claiming she failed to exhaust all options available to her under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, the Civil Rights Act’s anti-discrimination protections, the company’s own internal grievance policies and any other such “applicable administrative remedy.”

Even if the events had occurred as described in Guenier’s complaint, they write in the response, she is not entitled to any damages because of her failure to “make reasonable efforts to mitigate or minimize” actions that were “taken for legitimate, non-discriminatory and non-retaliatory reasons.”

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