JWT discrimination case drags on and on

Jeremy Lee
Jeremy Lee

JWT creatives set to get their day in court... finally.

It has been 10 months since Campaign broke the news that a group of white, straight, British men, including creative directors Chas Bayfield and Dave Jenner, had accused the now-defunct J Walter Thompson of discrimination. It will be another eight months – and almost two years since their grievance first emerged – before they get their day in court.

Having engaged lawyer Adrian Scotland, a managing partner at Judge Sykes Frixou, they have just been told that they’ll have to wait until 5 May to make their case at the Central London Employment Tribunal in Holborn. 

For those who have forgotten the details of the case, the chronology goes something like this. In May 2018, it was revealed that JWT had the worst gender pay gap in favour of men of any agency. Shortly afterwards, Jo Wallace, a creative director at the agency, was invited to speak at a Creative Equals event and used the occasion to announce that she is going to "obliterate" its reputation as an agency full of straight, white, British men. Some men who fitted this description complained to HR at JWT about the use of language; they were then made redundant. M’learned friends are subsequently hired as the group feel that they have been discriminated against on the grounds of gender, race and sexuality.

Since serving papers against JWT in February, much has happened to the agency – even if the wheels of justice have moved painfully slowly for all parties involved. The agency has been merged with Wunderman, its executive creative director, Lucas Peon, now reports to UK chief creative officer Steve Aldridge, while the JWT chief executive James Whitehead has been shifted to a global client role. 

The management team of Wunderman Thompson is now under the leadership of chief executive Pip Hulbert and dominated by Wunderman staffers rather than that of JWT. And, in a further intriguing twist, Abi Ellis, Wunderman’s executive creative director, resigned after an investigation triggered by a call to WPP’s confidential Right to Speak helpline.

Given that Wunderman had always had a more balanced workforce than JWT – pinky rings and red trousers were always a little harder to find – and is led by global chief executive Mel Edwards and chairman Tamara Ingram, the new-look agency will probably not suffer the gender-pay issues that JWT previously had. So that’s one problem solved.

But the issue of whether JWT acted in a discriminatory manner to some of its creatives remains something we’ll have to wait another eight months for the court to decide. The longer it drags on, the longer it continues to cast a shadow over Wunderman Thompson.

Jeremy Lee is contributing editor at Campaign

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