WPP Continues to Stand By Gustavo Martinez as Full List of Alleged Offenses Goes Public

By Patrick Coffee 

JWT and the larger WPP organization have, as of this moment, declined to take action against global chairman and CEO Gustavo Martinez as the fallout from the discrimination suit filed against him continues.

According to a memo sent out to WPP executives yesterday, the organization has been “conducting an enquiry into previous correspondence on these matters since February 25 and have found nothing, as yet, to substantiate these charges.” Global chief communications officer Erin Johnson’s lawyer delivered the letter regarding her planned suit on February 22 and officially filed it in federal court yesterday.

JWT also issued a statement this morning:


“We received the lawsuit on Thursday and take these kinds of allegations very seriously. Gustavo Martinez has asserted that the allegations are false. Following our standard practice, we are undertaking a thorough review of the matter and will comment further at the appropriate time and in the course of the litigation.”

Adweek has acquired the full filing, which may be viewed here.

The 28-page PDF outlines, in greater detail than previous reports, the very specific nature of Johnson’s claims against Martinez. In short: “Martinez has made it impossible for [Johnson] to do her job…Presenting JWT both internally and externally in a positive light has become virtually impossible given Martinez’s apparent comfort in making racist and sexist slurs, even on tape.”

Beyond his previously reported comments in which he allegedly said that he “hates…fucking Jews” and compared African Americans to “monkeys” who “don’t know how to use computers,” the document outlines a steady stream of indefensible behavior which Johnson’s suit claims stretches back to before Martinez was promoted to the global chairman/CEO role in January 2015. (Writer Douglas Quenqua of Campaign, who has also contributed to Adweek, essentially corroborated one of the anti-Semitic stories in a post that ran yesterday.)

As an example of Martinez’ early offenses, Johnson claims that he “grabbed [her] by the throat when directing her to complete a task” while staying at a hotel in France for the 2014 Cannes event.

When Johnson confronted Martinez about his behavior last year and told him that joking about rape is never appropriate, he allegedly grew aggressive and told her that she was being “too sensitive.” Minutes afterward, he told Johnson to join him in the bathroom so he could rape her. He said this in front of multiple JWT employees, and later the same day he interrupted a meeting including several female executives to ask Johnson which JWT women he might rape.

Martinez also allegedly demonstrated racism against Latin people, referring to a customs agent as a “Guatemalan monkey face” in front of several agency leaders including JWT CEO of the Americas and head of digital worldwide Stefano Zunino, JWT New York president Lynn Power, chief creative officer Brent Choi and others.

Perhaps most damning is the fact that Johnson claims she repeatedly voiced concerns to leaders at both JWT and WPP including global chief talent officer/head of HR Laura Agostini. Johnson claims that Agostini, who witnessed some of Martinez’s behavior firsthand, all but dismissed her complaints despite promising to address them. From the filing: “Instead, defendants have retaliated against Johnson by denying Johnson significant opportunities and reducing her compensation.”

According to the suit, Johnson met with JWT’s chief financial officer Lewis Trencher on or about February 12, 2016. He told her that she had two choices: either resign herself to this experience or “take action and do something about it.”

Trencher himself allegedly testified to the occurrence of anti-Semitism within the agency world, speculating that “people from different cultures do not always see things the same way.”

Last month, the suit says Martinez complained to other JWT leaders that advertising trade publications had not been rushing to publish profiles of him and theorized that McCann gets better coverage because the agency’s chief communications officer, who he called “the Jew,” is better at “work[ing]” the media.

Johnson claims that she filed the suit after realizing that executives at WPP and JWT were not going to act on her accusations. She warned others that the Martinez story would become a PR nightmare and that “if his comments were publicized, JWT would suffer serious consequences, including losing important clients.”

Two anonymous female executives told Adweek today that they were “absolutely stunned” and “really taken aback” by the allegations made against Martinez, claiming that they had never seen him behave in this way.

Sources who have reached out to us since this story went live yesterday disagree.