Ogilvy Slapped With Suit

LOS ANGELES A former employee of WPP Group’s Ogilvy & Mather has filed a lawsuit against the agency and Rick Roth, worldwide client services director and president of its West Coast operations, charging, among other things, sexual harassment and unfair business practices, including the overbilling of clients such as Symantec.

Former Ogilvy executive administrator Yvette Dobbie initially filed the complaint on May 5 in State Superior Court in Los Angeles. A more detailed, amended version was filed on July 30. Dobbie is seeking general damages in excess of $500,000, as well as unspecified economic and punitive damages and attorney fees. The suit also seeks an injunction enjoining Ogilvy from continuing the alleged unlawful practices and an order that the defendants pay restitution for overbilling clients.

Reached on Thursday, Ogilvy representative Eleanor Mascheroni said, “We feel the suit is entirely without merit and we intend to move to dismiss it.” Roth did not return calls.

The complaint alleges that Dobbie was compelled to resign from Ogilvy’s Culver City, Calif., office in May 2002 after “internal whistleblowing” regarding “accounting and billing fraud and sexual harassment of herself and other female employees by the company’s male managers, including defendant Rick Roth.”

The suit purports that this alleged harassment began shortly after Dobbie joined in March 2000, when the office was run by co-presidents Joe McDonagh and Angus Fraser, and intensified under Roth, who was named president in December 2001. Roth has been with Ogilvy since 1981. In addition to leading the West Coast office, he oversees more than $400 million in global billings on key accounts including Kraft Foods and Miller Brewing.

In the suit, Dobbie alleges that Dena Moore, Ogilvy’s director of print services, directed staff that non-billable administrative time in excess of two hours daily should be “improperly and fraudulently billed to Ogilvy clients (including Symantec), that other administrative time should be ‘buried’ in client invoices and that time sheets should be regularly ‘padded.'”Symantec, which did not return calls, is now a client of WPP’s J. Walter Thompson in Los Angeles.

Dobbie reported the alleged billing improprieties to Ogilvy’s Culver City CFO Tom Early, Roth and Human Resources director Mary Jensen and was told to “mind her own business,” according to the suit.

The suit details several instances of alleged harassment, including an agency-wide presentation at which Roth suggested that Dobbie, “had exchanged sex for financial gain.” The suit also alleges failure to prevent harassment, constructive wrongful termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

During a meeting in April 2002 with Jensen and Ogilvy North America CEO Tro Piliguian, “it was made abundantly clear to plantiff that the Ogilvy defendants did not intend any to conduct any meaningful investigation … or to otherwise seek to rectify the intolerable working situation,” according to the suit.

Dobbie’s attorney Steven D’Braunstein said Ogilvy was served in early August and has 30 days to file a response in court.

A hearing is set for Oct. 2 in Los Angeles.