Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal broke the news of a lawsuit filed by Nancy Mucciarone, a former associate director on the Dr. Pepper account at IPG’s Initiative, in which she and her lawyers Seth A. Rafkin and Jennifer Bogue accused client representative Justin Whitehead of “sexual assault” and “battery.”
The suit also named Initiative and IPG as defendants, claiming that they retaliated against Mucciarone after she reported the August 2017 happy hour incident in which Whitehead allegedly “pulled [her] shirt open and groped her breast” as she “repeatedly told him ‘no’ and pushed against his chest to get away from him.”
IPG and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group confirmed that Whitehead was fired soon after Mucciarone reported the incident. Since news of the case broke, however, IPG has offered a different version of the narrative than the one presented in the filing.
Today, Initiative CEO Amy Armstrong also issued an all-staff memo calling the situation “unfortunate” and stating that the lawsuit “mischaracterizes our actions.” In the memo acquired by AgencySpy, she used the opportunity to encourage staff to come forward with similar complaints and told employees not to discuss the case with the press.
The document filed in District Court on Tuesday reads: “When Plaintiff told Initiative management inside the bar about the attack, they minimized it and advised her not to go to HR right away. When Plaintiff did so anyway, Plaintiff’s supervisor and the person responsible for the Dr Pepper account, one of Initiative’s biggest clients, launched a campaign against Plaintiff to drum up a false record of poor performance and get her off the account and out of Initiative. She succeeded.”
The response that IPG presented to AgencySpy directly contradicts this account. Their statement says that on August 29th, the day the incident occurred, Mucciarone and “her direct supervisor” discussed the offense and that he “suggested they coordinate with a more senior person from the client before telling HR.”
The firm then states that she reported the incident formally on September 5, that “an internal investigation commenced immediately” and that Whitehead was fired by the client two days later. According to IPG, “multiple members of the senior executive team [then] spoke with [Mucciarone’s] direct supervisor about his two-business day delay in reporting the incident to management.”
IPG declined to identify the now-former supervisor in question, but both the WSJ account and the company statement indicate that he received a written warning about the delay and that he was told to attend a mandatory “Respect in the Workplace” training session before being fired just over a month later “for other issues.”
According to the filing, Mucciarone told Initiative leadership soon after the report that she wanted to continue working on the Dr. Pepper business, which was both the agency’s largest account and the only one she had worked on during her tenure. IPG’s statement says she “decided to remain on the account and felt supported by her direct supervisor.”
However, the holding group claims that, “since there were other DPSG employees present during the incident,” Mucciarone later began to feel “uncomfortable continuing to work on the account” and that “she was offered the opportunity to work at the same level on comparable pieces of business.”
The court document tells a different story. “Within a matter of weeks, Initiative’s Chief Communications Design Officer, David Stopforth, called Plaintiff into an unplanned meeting to ‘see what we can do with you,'” it reads. “He went on to tell her that she could not continue to work on the Dr Pepper account, Initiative’s largest account and the one she had worked on her entire tenure at Initiative.”
The two parties also disagree on the nature of related interactions between Mucciarone and agency leadership. According to IPG, “HR and senior management closely monitored Nancy’s situation with a number of in-person check-ins to ensure she felt safe and supported while she continued working on the DSPG account.”
But the filing claims that Initiative management “almost immediately … turned on” her. Specifically, it claims that a new EVP, managing director Linda Cronin “became suddenly critical of Plaintiff at almost every turn” and demanded “an inordinate amount of work.” The document also includes an email exchange characterized as “condescending and confrontational.”
Mucciarone then reportedly approached Danielle Dorter, IPG Mediabrands’ SVP of employee relations and legal compliance, regarding her new supervisor; the filing claims the latter executive was “appalled and told Plaintiff she would look into the matter.” The following day, Stopforth scheduled the aforementioned meeting in which he allegedly told Mucciarone in no uncertain terms that she could not continue working on the Dr. Pepper account.
Regarding Mucciarone’s claims about her new manager, IPG’s statement reads, “Nancy missed a critical deadline for an important client-related effort, and Linda provided feedback that was critical of Nancy’s performance on this deliverable … she was not demoting Nancy, removing her from the account, or taking any other such action.”
It then claims that she “expressed a desire to not work directly for Linda” and was offered both the option to remain on Dr. Pepper and to consider “other openings on a comparable account at the same title and compensation level.”
“We were taken aback when she never returned to the office and alerted us to her resignation via her attorney,” the statement continues. “It was at this point that we learned Nancy had filed suit and had named Initiative as a defendant–from her attorney, after she resigned.”
IPG did not mention Stopforth by name or directly address the filing’s claim regarding the meeting at which he allegedly told the plaintiff that she could not continue working with this particular client.
“Despite multiple opportunities, IPG has never rebutted the claims regarding Stopforth, and the CEO of Initiative has since directed all employees not to talk to the press,” said Seth Rafkin today when reached for comment on the case.
Here is the full memo from Armstrong:
By now, you may have heard about a very disturbing incident that occurred mid-last year between a former employee of ours – Nancy Mucciarone – and one of our DPSG clients.
It’s an upsetting situation – one that we wish never happened – but it did… and I want every one of you to know that we reacted swiftly and decisively to protect Nancy. We launched an internal investigation the day we found out about what transpired, immediately informed the client (who terminated their employee that day), and offered Nancy the opportunity to either stay on the DPSG business or to make a lateral move to another account. Our team repeatedly checked in on her to make sure she felt safe and comfortable moving forward, and we were sorry when she chose to resign. Nancy filed a lawsuit yesterday that mischaracterizes our actions, as we know our people and our client took meaningful and proper actions
in our response to the incident.
At Initiative we are committed to creating an environment where everyone always feels safe and comfortable, free from unlawful harassment or retaliation from anyone – manager, colleague, vendor, or client. If any of you are the victim of inappropriate behavior, please immediately tell your manager and/or someone in HR. We won’t tolerate this behavior and will take immediate action to deal with the situation to continue to protect our employees.
If you have any questions or concerns, please let your manager or someone in HR know, and we’ll address your concerns.
Or come to me. I’m always available to answer any question you may have.
Should any of you get contacted by the Press, please do not comment as this is a legal matter. If needed, please refer any press inquiries to Scott Berwitz, SVP, Corporate Communications for IPG Mediabrands.
Thank you everyone.