Dentsu Denies Biegel’s Latest Claims

NEW YORK In a court filing here on Jan. 22, Dentsu claimed Steve Biegel, a former cd at the agency, signed a form when he was hired acknowledging the company’s policy against sexual harassment and only complained about alleged harassment one-and-a-half years after the incidents occurred.

Dentsu’s filing came amid a nasty legal battle between the agency and Biegel, who last October filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit against the shop.

Among court documents Biegel filed on Jan. 17 asserting the case should proceed were statements that he does not recall being informed of a sexual harassment policy or receiving a policies and procedures manual at Dentsu.

Dentsu’s filing yesterday came in response to Biegel’s salvo.

According to court documents, Dentsu maintains that Biegel “has created no genuine issue of material fact as to the two prongs of the Faragher-Ellerth test.”

Named for two Supreme Court decisions, Faragher-Ellerth is termed an “affirmative defense” in which Dentsu can argue it had an adequate sexual harassment policy in place.

Following this course of action, law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius emphasized that Biegel did not avail himself of Dentsu’s internal complaint process.

Lawyers for Morgan, Lewis provided a page from DCA Advertising, Inc.’s (Dentsu America’s predecessor agency) Policies & Procedures Employee Manual as “Exhibit A.” The policy guidelines, dated December 1997, indicated that if an employee had a complaint of sexual harassment, that complaint must be brought to the attention of a supervisor or to the administrative officer if the complaint involved the employee’s direct line of command. It stated that all complaints would be promptly handled and that the company would take corrective action.

Legal counsel for the defense stated that when Biegel was hired, he signed a form acknowledging receipt of the policies and procedures manual. The signing of that document was an agreement of his responsibility as a Dentsu employee to comply with what was contained in the manual.

In one of Biegel’s original claims, he said he was taken to a brothel in Prague and that Toyo Shigeta, a defendant in the case, “forced and tricked [him] to go to the brothel” and that the visit made him feel “uncomfortable” and “humiliated.”

Such claims, according to Dentsu’s filing, suggest an “absence of a tangible employment action that is directly related to the harassment” because it is insufficient to establish constructive notice of harassment.

The documents also indicated that Biegel’s discussion with Shigeta about alleged harassment “supposedly took place over one-and-a-half years after the complained of incident and is too attenuated in time to defeat a Faragher-Ellerth affirmative defense.”

The case began last October when the former Dentsu exec filed his original complaint against Dentsu’s top North American executive Shigeta and Tim Andree, Dentsu America’s CEO, who fired the creative director in November 2006.

In court papers, Biegel made lurid claims against Shigeta, alleging the former cd was forced to visit a brothel and a Japanese bathhouse and had to watch Shigeta photographing women on a Brazilian beach during agency business trips. Biegel also claimed Shigeta showed him a “crotch shot” of a fully-clothed Maria Sharapova, allegedly taken by Shigeta, without the tennis star’s knowledge, while she was on a photo shoot for Dentsu client Canon.
Dentsu executives denied the claims and in November filed the motion to dismiss, saying if Biegel believed the claims were valid, they should have been made while he was an employee or that he should have filed the suit a year earlier when he was fired. Instead, Dentsu argued in its November motion, Biegel prepared a draft of his lawsuit and showed it to two of the agency’s largest clients while he and attorney Andrew Dwyer attempted to secure a $1 million payout from Dentsu.

Attorneys for the defense did not return a call. Dwyer deferred to case filings as the only place the side for the plaintiff will make its opinions known.