Lawyers File Motions to Dismiss Erin Johnson’s Lawsuit

By Patrick Coffee 

WPP is not backing down.

That’s the summary of today’s filings in U.S. District Court, in which lawyers for the holding company, JWT and former CEO/chairman Gustavo Martinez submitted documents arguing that the judge in the case should dismiss Erin Johnson’s lawsuit on the federal, state and city levels.

In short, the law firm of Davis & Gilbert LLP argues in a 30-page document that Martinez’s behavior (which we and other outlets have documented extensively) does not amount to harassment and did not compromise Johnson’s ability to do her job despite the fact that it may well have been “offensive.” It also claims that many of the incidents mentioned in her suit are “irrelevant” since they (allegedly) occurred before she lodged her first formal complaints with JWT chief talent officer Laura Agostini in May 2015, thereby rendering her behavior “protected.”

As evidence that Martinez did not create a “hostile work environment” for Johnson, the lawyers mention a text message she allegedly sent him in February, 10 days before her own legal team let WPP and JWT know that they would be filing a suit.

In the message, Davis & Gilbert say Johnson told Martinez that she had rejected an outside job offer “because I am loyal to you and what you are doing. I felt like we had a good year together. So I hope I wasn’t wrong to stay. Lol”

The firm also calls Johnson’s amended complaint alleging violations of the Equal Pay Act and Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act “frivolous,” essentially arguing that Martinez’s allegedly discriminatory behavior did not affect her as a white woman and that she cannot claim that he sexually harassed her because he never “actually talked about ‘the sex.'” This despite him (again, allegedly) stating that she should “come to him so he could ‘rape [her]’ in the bathroom” on one occasion after she told him that rape jokes like the one he made at a 2015 meeting with clients and employees at a Miami hotel were inappropriate.

Johnson’s lawyers spoke to AdAge today and implied that they had not expected today’s update, stating, “we are looking forward to submitting our response and getting on with this search for the truth” and adding that the WPP legal team was “plucking one text [message] and misstating it” in the interest of discrediting Johnson.

The only real conclusion one can draw from the latest filing is that the WPP/JWT legal team has decided to stick with its strategy of downplaying the significance of the incidents mentioned in Johnson’s suit after quickly abandoning efforts to deny that they had ever occurred.

Martinez’s law firm, which he hired after resigning in March, also filed its own separate motion to dismiss today using the same rationale.