JWT Lawyers Deny That Gustavo Martinez Ever Compared Black People and Guatemalans to Monkeys

By Patrick Coffee 

Last week, the most recent filings from the Erin Johnson side of the discrimination suit against former JWT CEO Gustavo Martinez accused the WPP agency of “encouraging” his (allegedly) disruptive behavior by defending him when the news first broke. Lawyers for Johnson also quickly dismissed claims that the inclusion of “The Video” of a 2015 Miami meeting in evidence would compromise JWT’s strategy, arguing that the agency’s legal team had “conjure[d] up a privacy interest” in order to avoid making the incriminating clip public.

JWT/WPP have fired back via documents filed today in Manhattan federal court in which their lawyers continue to dispute Johnson’s narrative and call her stories exaggerations or outright lies. From the filing:

“Plaintiff’s Opposition to Defendants’ Motion for Protective Order (“Opp’n”) is nothing more than a rehash of the allegations in the Amended Complaint, which is part of her continued efforts to manipulate facts and distort context to concoct a hostile work environment where none existed.”


It gets a bit more dramatic:

“…the so-called ‘facts’ alleged in the Amended Complaint are not facts at all, but rather unsubstantiated inaccurate allegations. When the true facts come out in the course of this litigation, this house of cards that Plaintiff has built will come tumbling down.”

The lawyers at Davis & Gilbert proceed to argue that this video of the Miami meeting at which Gustavo joked about being raped are OK to include as evidence in the possible trial after all, because it will simply serve to confirm that his joke about rape couldn’t have been inappropriate given that certain people who are not white men now say they were not offended by it.

“In light of the Declarations from women, minorities and others in the room that show that the comments on the Video were, in context, not offensive, the Video actually demonstrates the misleading nature of the allegations in the Amended Complaint.”

More importantly, “if the Court orders that Plaintiff edit out the faces of the people in the Video (other than Martinez), Defendants have no objection to the filing of the Video.” Again the lawyers use the “Martinez was merely trying to ease the tension” argument, stating in their document that Johnson was the only person who found his behavior inappropriate.

The legal language further contends that Martinez never claimed that he hadn’t made the aforementioned rape joke despite an initial statement that read, “there is absolutely no truth to these outlandish allegations and I am confident that this will be proven in court.” Now, the lawyers argue that this line was not addressing specific incidents but rather the general contention that he created “a hostile work environment” for Johnson and others over a period of two years.

According to this morning’s filing, “Plaintiff will be hard-pressed to show that a reasonable person in her position would believe Martinez’s conduct in making these comments created a hostile work environment.”

Further, regarding the idea that the JWT organization encouraged Martinez by refusing to do anything about Johnson’s multiple complaints to global head of HR Laura Agostini:

“Even Plaintiff admits that Ms. Agostini responded to her vague email about the Miami issue by indicating that she was ‘addressing’ the issue.”

Yes, we have established the fact that Agostini responded in this way. The next paragraph reads, “Plaintiff also continues to play the race card in this case” and goes on to accuse Johnson of making up her claims about Martinez comparing African Americans and Guatemalans to monkeys at a dinner that occurred the same week of the party that inspired his joke about being raped in a hotel elevator.

A separate document quotes several JWT executives including NY president Lynn Power, CEO of the Americas Stefano Zunino, Mirum global client lead Robin Bade, Mirum Miami CEO/chief creative officer Douglas Farjado and others in asserting that Martinez did not make the jokes mentioned in the initial filing at a separate dinner in Miami. Farjado also states:

“I add to the above that I am Guatemalan and thus, would clearly have reacted had Gustavo made the racist statements that Ms. Johnson alleges he made about people of Guatemalan origin.”

We would note, yet again, that the last few episodes of this back-and-forth series concern only the strategy meeting contained on the DVD in question and the dinner. JWT/WPP has yet to specifically address the other accusations included in Johnson’s suit, like the time Martinez (allegedly) made a point of calling her out during a high-level meeting at JWT’s headquarters in order to ask her which female executives might be more receptive to his jokes about rape.

In other news, Sir Martin Sorrell recently talked to Forbes in order to share some “PR lessons” for embattled U.K. prime minister (and BIG supporter of offshore tax havens) David Cameron. Surprisingly, those lessons did not include “Deny everything.”