JWT and WPP Reach Settlement in Erin Johnson, Gustavo Martinez Sexual Harassment Suit

Case has riveted the ad industry for 2 years

The lawsuit was filed against Martinez in March 2016.
Source: Getty Images

The sexual harassment lawsuit pitting J. Walter Thompson global chief communications officer Erin Johnson against her employer and its former CEO Gustavo Martinez has come to an end almost exactly two years after it was filed, with the parties agreeing to settle for an undisclosed sum.

Agency leadership announced the decision today after the legal teams agreed to the terms of the settlement.

The J. Walter Thompson company has “reached an amicable settlement agreement with Erin Johnson, chief communications officer of the J. Walter Thompson company, in the Johnson vs. J. Walter Thompson lawsuit,” an agency spokesperson said. “The terms of the agreement are confidential and will not be disclosed. Additionally, Johnson has resigned from the role of chief communications officer.”

Johnson’s resignation is effective immediately. The spokesperson declined to state whether JWT is actively seeking a replacement.

UPDATE: Erin Johnson provided a personal statement on the news.

“The past few years have been challenging to say the least, and I am grateful for the love and encouragement from family, friends and those of you in the industry who spoke up and offered support. Thank you,” she wrote. “Most importantly, I would like to thank Anne Vladeck, Debra Raskin and Jeremiah Iadevaia at Vladeck, Raskin & Clark—a brilliant legal team and force to be reckoned with. I hope that my personal experience will encourage others to speak up and follow their convictions. Moving forward, I wish Tam and the JWT team success.”

An internal memo obtained by Adweek, sent to all JWT staff by CEO Tamara Ingram, read, “Please join me in offering Erin our best wishes in her future endeavors. I know this has been a challenging time for everyone. We now need to look forward and focus our efforts on reimagining the future for J. Walter Thompson and our clients.”

Adweek has reached out to the law firms representing Martinez and J. Walter Thompson but had not received a response at the time this story went live.

Johnson’s case became the talk of the agency world upon its filing in March 2016, but faded from memory before returning to the spotlight in recent months as the #MeToo movement led to an increased focus on sexual harassment allegations against major industry players.

This news also arrives one day after JWT’s parent company, WPP, acknowledged that its board of directors has launched an investigation into allegations of “personal misconduct” on behalf of CEO Martin Sorrell, who “unreservedly” denied the claims.

“Martinez has made it impossible for [Johnson] to do her job,” read the suit filed by the law firm of Vladeck, Raskin & Clark in the Court of the Southern District of New York on March 10, 2016. He allegedly did so by harassing and undermining Johnson while making racist, sexist and anti-semitic comments in the presence of her and other staff members.

After initially standing by the CEO, who was widely seen as a rising star within the holding group, WPP announced Martinez’s resignation a week after news of the suit went public and promoted WPP chief client team officer Ingram to replace him. Johnson’s legal team later released video of Martinez joking about rape at an agency meeting.

The former CEO retreated to his native Spain, where he remained employed by WPP.

Johnson returned to work eight months after news of the suit broke, but her lawyers almost immediately accused the JWT organization of retaliating against her by treating her as “a pariah” and pressuring her to resign.

Over the next year, the case devolved into a back-and-forth over legal minutiae, including claims that WPP had withheld documents and intentionally failed to make Sorrell available for deposition, after the law firm of Davis & Gilbert unsuccessfully attempted to have the suit dismissed. The most recent filing came in mid-March, when Johnson’s firm introduced as evidence documents supporting rumors that Martinez had been appointed WPP’s country lead for all of Spain.

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