Former MSLGroup China CEO Faith Brewit has filed a lawsuit with the Shanghai Arbitration Bureau against holding company Publicis, claiming she was exposed to pervasive gender discrimination and denied basic tools necessary to perform her job and ultimately fired due to gender bias, Campaign India reported yesterday.
Brewitt left Have Faith in Your Brand, the cause marketing firm she launched in October of 2010, last year to accept the newly-created position of CEO for the Grater China region, tasked with overseeing four offices in mainland China, as well as in Hong Kong and Taipei. Upon her arrival in Shanghai in June, she contends the office did not provide the types of tools given to male employees.
“Ms. Faith Brewitt started work on June 14 in Shanghai. With no office, no computer, no admin support—nothing was done to prepare for her arrival because the regional HR person Nadia Pan did not warn anyone of her arrival,” reads a translated summary of the lawsuit provided to Campaign by Brewitt’s attorney, Gregory Louvel of Leaf Legal in Beijing.
Brewitt told Campaign she was not provided with a computer for two months, not granted access to the server for three months and blocked on global calls by the regional president, “a man who was clearly threatened,” for four months.
“I didn’t have a personal assistant—all the other guys had a PA on day one. Every aspect of my role was not taken seriously,” she added.
Soon, she said, she found her responsibilities being taken over by male employees.
“A man was hired for Beijing and another man was promoted in Hong Kong and I was told ‘not to worry’ about Taiwan,” she said. “Yet internally and externally my title and role did not change.”
The regional president, meanwhile, became her “de facto [boss]. I didn’t think he was my boss when I joined, then he became the biggest block. He would say that he had spoken to both men and this is how they feel.”
“My male counterparts in the same level positions, in and outside of China, were consistently treated differently and afforded more resources, time and respect,” she added.
In December she was told that she was being let go because she “wasn’t bringing in the dollars,” but claims, “China was holding its numbers” during her time in the position and that her brief tenure at the agency was not enough time for a true performance-based evaluation, regardless.
“While it is our company policy to not discuss the specific details of an employee’s departure from the firm, we strongly disagree with Ms. Brewitt’s characterization of the circumstances and will vigorously defend ourselves against her allegations,” MSLGroup said in a statement. “MSLGroup remains fully committed to the fair, equal and respectful treatment of all of our employees around the world and maintaining workplace practices that are lawful, correct and nondiscriminatory.”
The case is not the first instance of MSLGroup being accused of gender discrimination. In 2015, Publicis settled a class action suit against the PR agency for $3 million. That suit, started by lead plaintiff Monique da Silva Moore, included over one hundred women who claimed they were denied equal pay and/or passed over for promotions due to their gender, as well as dealing with alleged misconduct on the part of U.S. president Jim Tsokanos.
Anonymous sources also claim that MSLGroup’s most recent round of layoffs in the U.S. disproportionately impacted women over 50.
Last year also saw Saatchi & Saatchi executive chairman and Publicis Groupe head coach Kevin Roberts resign his position (ahead of his planned retirement on May 1, 2017) after heavy criticism following Business Insider interview in which he told Lara O’Reilly that “The fucking debate is all over” in regards to gender diversity. Roberts has since claimed that his words were “taken out of context” and that he was fatigued after a long flight and his fourth consecutive interview, while admitting to showing “appalling judgement.” Last month, Roberts joined U.K. PR, marketing and communications agency Beattie Communications as chairman.