A former employee of Omelet has filed a lawsuit against the Culver City, Calif. agency, alleging she was fired for voicing concerns over a campaign promoting Princess Cruises as safe for travel.
Former associate creative director Tiffani Harcrow filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court on June 22.
Omelet denies all of the allegations in the lawsuit, stating that Harcrow lost her job during layoffs related to the business impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Ms. Harcrow was part of a round of layoffs due to the Covid-19 crisis. Laying off employees is always difficult, but in the current environment, it is, unfortunately, a reality of life,” an Omelet spokesperson said in a statement. “These claims are false and have no foundation. We will be vigorously defending ourselves in the appropriate forum.”
In addition to unlawful termination, Harcrow alleges she faced retaliatory actions ending with her firing, which violated California labor laws and unfair business practices legislation. She claims Omelet intentionally inflicted emotional distress on her with retaliatory actions and threats before and after her termination.
Sam Yebri, the lawyer representing Harcrow, told Adweek that this included Omelet CEO Thas Naseemuddeen referencing an industry “blacklist” to Harcrow.
“I categorically deny that,” Naseemuddeen told Adweek of the blacklist and threat allegations, adding, “It’s simply untrue.” Naseemuddeen was promoted to CEO from her previous role as Omelet’s managing director and chief strategy officer last year.
The legal filing does not include any screenshots or other documented evidence backing up the allegations. The plaintiff’s lawyer said he feels confident Harcrow’s version of events will be proven true.
“The evidence will show that the only reason for Ms. Harcrow’s termination was retaliation for her reasonable and justifiable objections to working on this marketing campaign,” Yebri said in a statement. “But, Omelet’s attempts to intimidate Ms. Harcrow from doing the right thing failed. Any further attempts to defame or ‘blacklist’ Ms. Harcrow in the ad industry will expose Omelet’s executives to personal liability.”
Omelet, which had held the Princess Cruises account since 2017, hired Harcrow as an associate creative director in 2018. She claims in the complaint that she received nothing but positive feedback during her time at the agency, was referred to as an “all-star” of the creative department and never received any negative evaluations or disciplinary actions. In April, Harcrow alleges, executives asked her to work on the account, which she agreed to do.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a No Sail Order on March 14 that suspended cruise line operations for 30 days, which was extended on April 9 to remain in effect through July 24. In a call about the brief, Harcrow alleges, she pointed out the CDC guidelines and asked about safety protocols. She claims she told her supervisors that she found that the campaign was “misleading, fraudulent, unethical, violated public safety laws and protocols, was inconsistent with the CDC orders and congressional investigation, and would endanger the health, safety and lives of consumers.”
Omelet denies these claims, per the agency’s statement.
The complaint, first reported by NBC Los Angeles, alleges Omelet CCO Michael Wallen said, “I would not put my family on a cruise ship either, for fear of catching Covid-19, but it was our duty to our client to instruct the public to do so.” Reached by Adweek, Wallen said he did not make such a statement.
“From what I’ve seen of the complaint that’s related to my alleged behavior or statements, I vehemently deny all of it,” Wallen said.
In an email later that day to Wallen and Omelet director of people and culture Abba Binns, Harcrow alleges, she and another employee again expressed their concerns and objections to the campaign, specifically citing a “lack of safeguards against asymptomatic cases and the lack of Covid-19 testing before embarkation.”
Harcrow claims Wallen and Binns called her the next day to chastise her for objecting to the campaign and warned her she wouldn’t be put on other projects if she continued.
“These claims are false, have no foundation, and I vigorously deny all of the accusations related to my alleged actions,” Binns told Adweek.
Omelet’s stated reason for Harcrow’s termination on May 6, according to the complaint, was a “loss of and lack of new business and the loss of the Princess account,” which her lawsuit alleges is false. The complaint alleges that Omelet didn’t take any steps to investigate Harcrow’s claims of retaliation.
Harcrow is demanding a jury trial and seeking restitution, compensatory, punitive, civil and other damages, as well as legal and other fees.