The chairman and chief executive of ad agency J. Walter Thompson (JWT,) Gustavo Martinez, is facing a lawsuit filed by an employee who claims he made “constant racist and sexual slurs,” including referring to black people as “monkeys” and telling a female employee he wanted to rape her in the bathroom.
The complaint was filed by Erin Johnson, the ad agency’s chief communications officer, in the Manhattan federal court on Thursday. Claire Atkinson at The New York Post first reported the story.
Martinez denies the allegations.
In a statement provided by JWT parent company WPP on Thursday to several news outlets, Martinez said: “I am aware of the allegations made against me by a J. Walter Thompson employee in a suit filed in New York Federal Court. I want to assure our clients and my colleagues that there is absolutely no truth to these outlandish allegations and I am confident that this will be proven in court.”
WPP provided Business Insider with this statement: “WPP is aware of the suit filed in New York Federal Court [on Thursday] and the allegations made against Gustavo Martinez, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the J. Walter Thompson Company. WPP’s lawyers have been conducting an enquiry into previous correspondence on these matters since February 25 and have found nothing, as yet, to substantiate these charges.”
JWT counts Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Ford, and the United States Marine Corps among its clients.
Martinez became worldwide chairman and CEO of JWT in January 2015. Johnson was promoted to the company’s chief communications officer in 2009.
The suit alleges Martinez said to Johnson: “Come here, so I can rape you in the bathroom”
The suit alleges Martinez “made it impossible for [Johnson] to do her job … given Martinez’s apparent comfort in making constant racist and sexist slurs, even on tape.”
Martinez often referred to Johnson as his “work wife” and once told a male colleague to leave his office because he and Johnson needed to talk about “the sex,” according to the suit, which says the behaviour made her feel humiliated.
The suit claims Martinez “grabbed Johnson by the throat or the back of the neck while talking to her” on multiple occasions and at one point, in front of colleagues, Martinez beckoned Johnson to come over so he could “rape [her] in the bathroom,” before grabbing her around the neck and laughing.
Later that day, Martinez interrupted a meeting among female colleagues and asked Johnson in front of the women which female staff member he could rape, the suit claims.
Johnson’s suit claims:
Martinez has said multiple times that certain women should “shut up [their] mouths” and, on information and belief, said that a female executive he disliked needed to be “hogtied” and “raped into submission.”
In May 2015, when Johnson confronted Martinez, saying it was unacceptable to make comments about rape, the CEO became “angry and aggressive,” according to the suit. Johnson was told “she was wrong” and that “American women are too sensitive,” the suit claims.
Alleged racist comments
The also suit claims Martinez once told colleagues he would avoid the “black monkeys” and “apes” at airport customs because they “don’t know how to use computers.” He also once boasted about upbraiding a customs agent whose “Guatemalan monkey face” was “white-faced” after he did not believed Martinez was the CEO of an advertising firm, the suit claims.
On a separate occasion at an off-site in hotel in Miami, the suit claims Martinez told employees to “check all your luggage” and “all your stuff,” apparently referencing a party at the hotel’s night club the night before that had been attended mostly by African American guests.
The suit alleges that Martinez “regularly makes anti-Semitic remarks.” For example, at a work lunch in London, Martinez told his colleagues he disliked living in Westchester County because he “hate[s] those f—— Jews.”
The suit also mentions a meeting in February 2016 when Martinez and Johnson met with an “industry journalist” in which he told the reporter he disliked living in Westchester County because there are “too many Jews.”
On Thursday, the editor-in-chief of advertising trade title Campaign US, Douglas Quenqua, wrote that when interviewing Martinez the JWT boss mentioned had moved to Westchester but it hadn’t worked out. Quenqua said he thought Martinez said: “Too many Jews.”
The suit says that Johnson complained orally and in writing about Martinez’s conduct but despite the company’s chief talent officer promising she was “addressing” the complaints, nothing had been done to remedy the situation.
“Instead, defendants have retaliated against Johnson by denying Johnson significant opportunities and reducing her compensation,” the suit claims. Johnson was put on paid leave last month, the lawsuit says.
Johnson is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, injunctive and declaratory relief, and legal and equitable relief.
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