New Filing in JWT Discrimination Case Accuses Agency of ‘Encouraging’ CEO’s Sexist Behavior

Plaintiff pushes for video to be entered as evidence

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Lawyers representing JWT's chief communications officer, who is suing her agency over claims of discrimination, today filed a court document arguing that video footage of former CEO Gustavo Martinez joking about rape should be allowed into evidence.

The document also accuses the company of "encouraging" Martinez's behavior by downplaying the significance of his off-color comments.

The video in question reportedly shows Martinez speaking at a 2015 corporate gathering and joking that he was afraid of being raped "but not in a nice way" at the event's Miami hotel. In a document aimed at keeping the video out of court, the agency's legal team said Martinez made those comments "to ease the tension" regarding an "unruly and disorderly" party held at the hotel the night before.

When plaintiff Erin Johnson filed her lawsuit last month, Martinez initially said there was "absolutely no truth to these outlandish allegations" and promised to prove his innocence in court. He later resigned after JWT parent company WPP hired an outside firm to investigate Johnson's claims.

In the new documents, Johnson's legal team at Vladeck, Raskin & Clark argues that WPP's legal response regarding Martinez's rape comment amounts to a defense of Martinez: "Defendants' dismissive description of the 'context' of Martinez's joke about being raped, 'but not in a nice way' is confirmation that defendants not only are condoning Martinez's behavior, but indeed are encouraging it."

Regarding JWT executives' claims that they "appreciated" Martinez's efforts to make light of the situation, the plaintiff's memorandum states, "This after-the-fact attempt to cover up unlawful conduct is a blatant rewrite of history and is obviously pretextual."

Earlier this month, lawyers for WPP argued the DVD of Martinez's comments should not be allowed into evidence because it contains "confidential" information regarding JWT's global management strategy. They wrote that its release could "cause significant damage" to the agency's ability to remain competitive by revealing trade secrets to its competitors.

In today's filing, Vladeck, Raskin & Clark argued that the video should be admitted due to both "the public's role in monitoring the courts" and "the public interest in discrimination at a major employer."

"The Video confirms and is integral to the Amended Complaint's allegations of bias including Martinez's repeated comments about raping JWT employees," the memorandum reads.

The document is harshly critical of the agency's arguments, stating that lawyers for JWT and parent company WPP have "conjure[d] up a privacy interest" to minimize the fallout from Johnson's suit. It points out that hotel staff were free to enter the meeting, and the DVD only shows "fleeting glimpses of attendees."

WPP and JWT's lawyers expressed a desire to protect agency executives from reporters asking questions about the case. Today's filing reads, "The absurd contention that media executives somehow deserve protection against a few calls or emails from the press does not come close to meeting defendants' heavy burden to justify sealing of the video."

Most of the legal arguments so far have centered on the Miami gathering, which is just one of the incidents alleged in Johnson's suit. Last week, Martinez moved to retain a law firm separate from the one representing JWT and WPP—indicating the case could continue even if the primary parties involved reach a settlement.

WPP representatives declined to comment on the latest developments in the case.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.