Gustavo Martinez Hires a New Law Firm as JWT Execs Defend His Version of Miami Story

By Patrick Coffee 

In the latest development in the drip, drip story of now-former JWT global CEO Gustavo Martinez, the defendant has named a new law firm to defend him as various executives testify on his behalf regarding the details of the 2015 Miami conference involving the (now official) rape joke.

Documents filed yesterday in New York federal court mark the first appearance of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, LLP, which is now primary counsel for the defendant.

Four individuals declared their status as Martinez’s new attorneys–which indicates that the back and forth will continue with no end in sight.


It’s a somewhat expected development. The firm of Davis & Gilbert, LLP has been representing the collective parties named in the suit–Martinez, J. Walter Thompson and WPP–since it was initially filed on March 10, and Martinez is no longer a JWT employee after stepping down. (Davis & Gilbert has represented various WPP parties in the past, and the two entities have a longstanding relationship.)

As previously reported, JWT retained the firm Proskauer Rose LLP to “conduct an independent investigation” into Johnson’s allegations earlier this month. That announcement came two days before Martinez resigned, so it’s unclear whether the firm continues to work on the case at this time.

So the proceeding now essentially move forward on two separate fronts, with one team representing JWT/WPP/Martinez as one jointly responsible party and one defending Martinez as a lone defendant.

As we learned yesterday, four JWT execs testified regarding the Miami event at which Martinez joked about being raped in order to “lighten the tension.” The full memorandums filed in support of WPP’s motion for a protective order regarding the DVD include some colorful details about the pool party that led to that exchange.

From sworn testimony by Charlotte Ibarra, who is currently manager of events at JWT New York:

“Upon our return to the hotel, we immediately saw several police cars with lights flashing. We realized that the police were there to deal with a crowd of people that were gathered outside the hotel to attend a pool party that was going on in the nightclub at the hotel.

The people on line were behaving in an unruly and disorderly manner. It appeared that many were already very drunk. Many people were wearing extremely revealing clothing and some were in bikinis.

…Many people complained to me that they thought the atmosphere at the hotel was awful.

Condoms were floating in the pool, which was oddly murky. The windows between the pool deck and the meeting room had butt cheek imprints which had to be washed away.

At least one of the elevators that services this room was broken by the party attendees the evening before, causing a real problem in terms of getting 60 people to the high floor on which the meeting occurred.”

This all preceded JWT Portugal CEO Susana de Carvalho’s confusion over whether her luggage had been stolen from her room after “people had been in her room taking her luggage and her personal items from the bathroom.” (It had been misplaced by hotel staff.)

That led Martinez to joke about Carvalho having a “troubled night” when her room “had been very visited.”

Regarding Martinez’s subsequent joke about being raped in the elevator by people who had attended the party the night before, Carvalho testifies: “I was not at all offended by anything he said. Notably, though people complained to me during the entire time in Miami about the party … nobody complained to me, nor did I hear that anyone complain [sic] to someone else, about any comments Gustavo made at the meeting.”

From Keni Thacker, JWT’s senior event technology specialist:

“I am African American and I took responsibility as Executive Producer of Differenter [the event in question] because diversity is an issue I feel passionate about. The comments Gustavo made during the Miami meeting had nothing to do with race and I did not feel at the time of the meeting or now that there was anything racist about them.

Gustavo’s ‘check your luggage’ comment during the meeting was made in reference to an actual incident that had occurred and to ease the tension among the meeting attendees who had had a difficult time dealing with the hotel.”

Thacker later states that Martinez’s comments about “strange characters” on the hotel elevators “were not related to race; rather, they alluded to the half-undressed people who had been at the party and in the elevator.” He then defends Martinez in general terms:

“If I had thought that there was anything racist in what Gustavo said at the meeting, I would have been the first one to speak to him about it or to complain. … I have never seen him treat anyone disrespectfully regardless of race.”

In separate statements, Carvalho and JWT New York CEO Lynn Power also defended Martinez. From Power:

“Given the context of the highly unusual events … combined with Gustavo’s lack of command of the English language and the fact that he was making a joke about himself, we did not find the comments he made offensive.”

Power then repeated the “easing the tension” phrase, adding the qualifier “we would not have chosen the same words he did.”

Each individual also made clear his/her awareness that these would be public statements, arguing that they did so in order to protect “other JWT employees” who “do not want their images in the press and also do not want to be contacted by reporters.”

The filings indicate that hotel staff apologized and reimbursed JWT for an undisclosed amount due to the state of the pool deck where they held the meeting in question and the status of the elevators. Management told Carvalho that an untold number of salespeople were “disciplined for allowing a party of this nature to occur at the hotel.”

We would note that all these statements concern only one of the many incidents included in the initial suit. Expect more news to come, even if WPP eventually decides to settle with Johnson.