Judge asks to see JWT 'rape joke' tape

Erin Johnson.
Erin Johnson.

WPP is seeking to exclude video allegedly showing former CEO Gustavo Martinez joking about rape in front of top execs

The judge in the Erin Johnson discrimination suit will view a tape that allegedly shows former chairman and chief executive Gustavo Martinez making a rape joke at a 2015 J. Walter Thompson meeting.

The tape is at the center of a lawsuit filed by Johnson, JWT’s chief communications officer, on March 10 claiming that Martinez made "a constant stream of racist and sexist remarks" that made it impossible for her to do her job.

Johnson’s lawyers asked the court to allow the tape as evidence early last week, claiming it corroborated claims in paragraphs 39 and 40 of her 28-page suit.

Those sections state that Martinez "made numerous comments about rape" at that meeting, which sources said took place at the Viceroy Hotel and reference a "Miami Life" hip-hop party held at the hotel pool the evening before.’

Martinez said he "found … different and strange characters in the elevator," according to the suit. "I was thinking I was going to be raped at the elevator," but "not in a nice way."

WPP objected to the tape being entered as evidence, arguing that it contained propriety evidence of JWT’s process and that Johnson had withheld it from the company. Johnson’s lawyers said the tape, which is less than a minute long, does not contain any proprietary information. They also said Johnson attempted to make JWT executives aware of the tape before she filed suit.

This morning, District Judge J. Paul Oetke ordered Johnson’s lawyers to bring the tape to the court so he could view it. They are also to deliver a copy to the defendants, who will then have one week to file any objections they have to entering it as evidence.

"Plaintiff is directed to deliver a copy of the video to the Court’s chambers for review in camera," he wrote, meaning he would watch the video in private." Plaintiff is also directed to serve a copy of the same video on Defendants. Defendants may file any further letter or motion regarding the video within one week of the date of service."

A final decision will be made whether to allow the tape as evidence once the judge has heard any objections the defendants may have.

Martinez has denied the allegations, and WPP has hired an outside law firm to assist with an internal investigation. Last week, Martinez resigned his post "by mutual agreement," and was replaced by WPP chief client officer Tamara Ingram. Johnson, who is seeking unspecified  punitive and compensatory damages has since been placed on administrative leave.

Johnson’s lawyers did not immediately return a call for comment.

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