Last month, Alexei Orlov stepped down as CEO of Omnicom agency RAPP in the wake of a lawsuit brought by now-former U.S. president Greg Andersen that accused him of discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination. Now the law firm representing him has filed a new series of claims designed to downplay Andersen’s accusations.
Directly before Orlov stepped down, the RAPP team issued a response calling the suit’s claims “outrageous” and stating that Andersen’s termination was justified. The law firm of Latham & Watkins stated that Andersen “failed to perform basic duties during his short tenure” as U.S. president and that RAPP does not plan to hire a replacement because “Andersen demonstrated that both he and his position were unnecessary.”
Their newly updated response, which officially went live on July 1, goes into greater detail.
First, it claims that in June of 2015, Andersen “was warned [about his lack of contribution to the agency] and asked to improve by a RAPP senior executive, who had received multiple complaints about Mr. Andersen’s lack of responsiveness. … [he] largely ignored the issue and blamed his email calendar for his unresponsiveness.”
The filing then accuses Andersen of going on vacation the following month “during an important workshop for generating new business at RAPP” and claims that he did not properly notify colleagues as to his pending absence. “By September 2015,” it continues, “Mr. Alexei Orlov, then the CEO of RAPP, complained to colleagues that Mr. Andersen did not get personally involved in work and did not contribute much to RAPP.”
According to the filing, this was not the first or last time that Orlov complained about Andersen: “In October 2015, Mr. Orlov wrote to Mr. Andersen expressing disappointment that [he] had disappeared from an important RAPP meeting in Dallas … Mr. Orlov felt like he was doing Mr. Andersen’s job for him.”
It’s unclear whether that was the same meeting where Orlov allegedly told more than 70 employees: “[If you] mess with my brand or my direction … I will break off your finger and shove it up your ass.”
Next, the filing claims that Andersen sent a text inquiry regarding the status of a pitch that had already been won during the month before Orlov fired him. “In another example,” lawyers claim, “Mr. Andersen informed a senior RAPP member that he was not going to help with an important pitch because he would be going out drinking instead.”
One of the key elements of the original suit was Andersen’s claim that Orlov declined to promote a female executive because he thought she was “too pretty” to be taken seriously.
The new filing argues, “Andersen was no champion of equality in the workplace. In fact, Mr. Andersen had to be lectured for his lack of inclusiveness of women and his attempts to turn RAPP into a ‘boys club.'” It goes on to claim that he was warned not to promote a “recently-hired and unproven male friend” rather than “longer-tenured and more-established female senior members of RAPP.” The filing does not include any details regarding this assertion.
Finally, the document accuses Andersen of destroying evidence, again without going into detail. “Prior to Mr. Andersen’s last day of employment at RAPP,” it reads, “[he] deleted or attempted to delete information from his work computer and company phone … in violation or company policy.” It then implies that he did so “with the knowledge that the information that he deleted or attempted to delete would be relevant to this action.” It is unclear what this information entailed.
Andersen’s legal team at Rushovic Mehtani LLC sent us a response to this latest filing, writing, “The fact that Mr. Andersen was a stellar performer as President of RAPP USA, Managing Director of RAPP LA and at the Company generally will be evident at trial, and is also evidenced by the fact that his promotion to President occurred almost two years after he started at RAPP, and about one year before his retaliatory termination of employment.”
The statement continues: “Indeed, the recent public statements made by RAPP in connection with Mr. Orlov’s separation emphasize the great success of the Company, and that success would have been impossible without a strong American presence and Mr. Andersen’s important contributions to the Company. Thus, the Company’s smearing of Mr. Andersen in court documents is the latest example of its pattern of shortsighted and poor decision-making. While we are saddened by RAPP’s various failures that have caused serious harm to so many of its dedicated current and former employees, we are hopeful that a jury can help the Company recalibrate its moral compass when the time comes.”
In a general sense, this story’s timeline looks very similar to that of the suit filed against former JWT CEO Gustavo Martinez.
In both cases, the initial documents were met with strong denials and promises to continue fighting the accusations in court. Days or weeks after these opening statements, the executives in question each stepped down as others took their place. In the Martinez case, Tamara Ingram took over as global chairman/CEO of JWT; in the Orlov case, former RAPP EMEA/APAC president Marco Scognamiglio replaced the departing chief executive.
Just as JWT’s legal team filed a request for dismissal of the case brought by chief communications officer Erin Johnson, so RAPP has expanded its attempts to downplay the claims made by Andersen by portraying him as an unreliable employee.
The respective agencies’ long-term legal strategies are not quite clear at this moment. But both cases seem likely to continue for several more months at a minimum.