WPP renews demand for Erin Johnson to dismiss federal harassment claims

Johnson's complaint fails to satisfy the "severe or persuasive" requirements needed, argues WPP lawyer.

WPP’s legal team today reiterated its claim in a letter to the court that Erin Johnson, the J. Walter Thompson chief communications officer that is suing the company and former CEO Gustavo Martinez for sexual harassment, should dismiss her claims because she has failed to demonstrate that she was subjected to a hostile work environment or retaliation.

Today’s letter is in response to the second amended complaint Johnson’s lawyers filed two weeks ago, which sought to add federal claims that Johnson was discriminated against "in terms and conditions on the basis of her gender, including inter alia, by creating a hostile work environment because of her gender, in violation of Title VII. 

The 10-page document from attorney Howard J. Rubin of Davis & Gilbert, which represents WPP and JWT, argues that the complaint did not satisfy the "severe or persuasive" standard required by Title VII, describing Johnson’s arguments as "generalized allegations" that "the conduct was ‘constant,’ ‘repeated,’ and ‘routine.’"

The letter also argues that the court has previously deemed other allegations that were "far more egregious, frequent and sexual" as inefficient to meet the requirements of Title VII claims.

Johnson’s claim that Martinez’s behavior was "so pervasive to have altered her working environment," says the letter, is undermined by the fact that she made no complains that Martinez "touched her, made any statements about ‘sex’ or ‘rape’ or harassed her in any way on the basis of gender" for the 9 months after Johnson complained to the agency’s chief talent officer, Laura Agostini.

Johnson also fails to support the retaliation claim, the letter added, because "among other things" she has not alleged that she was subject to "’materially adverse’" action "plausibly connected" to Martinez’ behavior.

It will be at least several weeks before the court will likely make any decision about the validity of Johnson’s claim. Today’s letter was filed after the legal teams met for the first time in front of United States District Judge Paul Oetken on September 9 to discuss Johnson team's filing of the second amended complaint.The judge accepted Johnson’s second amended complaint and gave WPP, which filed to dismiss the case in May, two weeks to respond. Johnson’s team has two weeks to respond to today’s letter, after which the defense will have a week to respond.

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