WPP backs Martinez against claims of racist, sexist behavior

Lawsuit filed by PR director claims CEO laughed about raping female staff and called black people "monkeys"

J. Walter Thompson worldwide chairman and CEO Gustavo Martinez has denied allegations made in an employee’s lawsuit that he frequently joked about raping female staffers and made racist comments in public.

"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 said in a written statement issued by WPP Group.

WPP sent a memo to agency executives yesterday that said the holding company had been investigating the matter and has not yet found any evidence supporting the accusations detailed in Johnson’s suit. "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," said the memo.

At press time, it was unclear how the lawsuit will affect the agency’s client relationships. One client, Ford, said that WPP has backed Gustavo’s claims of innocence.  "WPP has informed us that these serious allegations are not true," said a representative in an email statement yesterday, referring further inquires to the holding company. Johnson & Johnson and Shell declined comment, and calls to other clients, including Macy’s, HSBC, Kellogg’s, Unilever and Coca-Cola, were not returned. 

The lawsuit, filed by worldwide communications director Erin Johnson, claims that Martinez complained about "fucking Jews" and called black people "monkeys" in front of employees. He also made repeated rape jokes focused on Johnson and other female staffers, said the suit, originally reported by the New York Post.

"Come here so I can rape you in the bathroom," Martinez allegedly said before grabbing Johnson’s neck and laughing. In another incident, he allegedly told employees he would avoid the "black monkeys" and "apes" at airport customs because they "don’t know how to use computers."

Johnson, who has been with the WPP agency since 2005, remains with the company, according to sources. She did not immediately return a call for comment.

Martinez recently celebrated his one-year anniversary in the chief executive position.

Johnson filed the suit in federal court in Manhattan on Thursday, and is seeking unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.

Subscribe today for just $116 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.com , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free