JWT CEO Martinez says he will not attend 4A's conference

"Out of respect for the conference," agency boss at center of lawsuit says he will withdraw "to discourage any distractions"

Gustavo Martinez, chairman and chief executive of J. Walter Thompson, will not appear at the 4A’s Transformation conference in Miami next week as planned.

"I am honored to have been invited as a panelist at the conference," Martinez said in an email message to the organizers, according to a person with knowledge of the decision. "Out of respect for the conference participants, I have decided to withdraw from the panel to discourage any distractions from the important discussions scheduled to take place."

Martinez was slated to appear alongside "Orange is the New Black" star Dascha Polanco in a presentation titled "Dominoes with Dascha." Martinez, born in Buenos Aires and raised largely in Spain, was supposed to lead a discussion about the substantial influence of Latinas in American culture.

Polanca is now listed as the sole speaker for the presentation, which is scheduled for 3:40 p.m. on Tuesday, March 22. The title for the presentation has not changed.

No replacement for Martinez has yet been identified, according to those familiar with the situation. Nancy Hill, president and chief executive of the 4As, declined to comment.

Last Thursday, JWT chief communications officer Erin Johnson filed a discrimination lawsuit against Martinez, WPP and JWT in federal court in Manhattan alleging that Martinez repeatedly made racist and sexist comments, rendering it "impossible for her to do her job." According to the suit, Martinez frequently referred to black people as "monkeys," complained about "the fucking Jews" and joked in front of colleagues about raping Johnson and other female staffers.

Martinez immediately issued a statement denying the accusations in the suit, which was originally reported by the New York Post. "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," he wrote. WPP has said it had been conducting an investigation since February 25, but had yet to uncover evidence of any wrongdoing.

Even without Martinez present, the drama surrounding the lawsuit is likely to hover over the annual gathering of advertising agencies, which is already poised to grapple with sensitive issues like ad fraud, the talent drain and ad blocking.

Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, is scheduled to be interviewed with New Yorker writer Ken Auletta at 1:30 p.m. on Wed, March 23. Sorrell has not yet spoken publicly about the lawsuit.

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