UPDATE: DDB CD Files $20 Million Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against His Own Agency

By Patrick Coffee 

A New York-based creative director recently filed a lawsuit against his employer DDB and its parent company Omnicom. The suit accuses the agency’s Chief Digital Officer Joe Cianciotto of harassing the plaintiff, “described only as a gay man with HIV,” over an unspecified period of time and claims damages exceeding $20 million.

The suit makes various claims against Cianciotto, who was promoted to the CDO position in 2013 after nearly a decade with the agency. In summary, the plaintiff alleges that he was “emotionally and physically paralyzed with fear as a gay man being discriminated by his own supervisor,” and the suit also names DDB New York CEO Chris Brown (who accepted that position nearly a year ago) and DDB Chief Executive Peter Hempel, claiming that they failed to respond to related complaints despite the fact that the plaintiff allegedly underwent “severe emotional distress.”

This came to light in a MediaPost story that ran yesterday and included the lines quoted above. An agency spokesperson has provided us with a response to the suit while noting one major inaccuracy in the original report: while MediaPost calls the plaintiff “a former creative director,” he is in fact still employed by the DDB organization.

The official statement from a DDB spokesperson:

“The alleged conduct in this complaint occurred years ago and the employee who filed the lawsuit did not previously file a complaint with DDB about any of the actions cited and he remains employed by DDB.  We do not believe the lawsuit has merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously.  DDB is committed to providing a comfortable and positive work environment for all of its employees.  All claims of harassment – of any type – are fully investigated and appropriate corrective action is taken if company policies have been violated.”

UPDATE: The plaintiff’s lawyer, one Susan Chana Lask, Esq., contacted us after this post went live to offer her own competing statement. She writes:

“DDB’s statement is inaccurate that the misconduct occurred years ago. The complaint clearly alleges that the misconduct continued from 2011 through 2015. And contrary to DDB’s other misstatement, my client did previously complain about the misconduct to DDB prior to filing this complaint, which was as well filed after the EEOC issued a right to sue letter. Also inaccurate is DDB’s perception that because my client remains employed there then that excuses the misconduct. It is the other way around; my client remains employed because by law a victim of such misconduct does not have to leave their employment and cannot be terminated in retaliation for his complaints.”

For the record, we did not perceive DDB’s statement to imply that the client’s current status as an agency employee renders his lawsuit without merit.