Political correctness - like the road to hell - is paved with good
intentions. Nowhere more so than in New York’s biggest agencies which
talk a good game when it comes to PC. Now a lawsuit may be about to test
whether actions really match the fine words.
Craig Ferguson is gay. He used to be a $30,000-a-year researcher at
McCann-Erickson but was fired in 1996 after what he claims was a
two-and-a-half-year campaign of harassment and discrimination against
him by staffers who wrongly identified him as having Aids.
Within the next few weeks Ferguson, aged 35, and his lawyers will go
into a US federal court in pursuit of a $1 million lawsuit against
Ferguson’s suit alleges that a picture of a man with woman’s make-up was
pasted on his door and that he was asked by Steven Xenakis, a McCanns
senior vice-president: ’Don’t you think all the gays with Aids deserve
what they got for screwing around?’ He also alleges that a reference to
his work for New York’s Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center was
deleted from an agency directory.
McCanns, however, is confident the case will be thrown out. Ken Kelly,
its lawyer, claims Ferguson was fired only because his performance was
unsatisfactory and he had not taken the opportunity offered him to
improve it. ’Everybody had been aware for some time that he was gay,’ he
’He has not been disadvantaged by anything that has happened.’
McCanns itself has a number of openly gay senior managers and not even
Greg Antollino, Ferguson’s attorney, suggests his allegations indicate a
deeply embedded anti-gay culture within US agencies. However, agencies
which are conservative by nature often become reluctant travellers on
the PC bandwagon.
As a British manager at one major US shop explains: ’Your welcome pack
always boasts about equal opportunities but the words aren’t accompanied
by much action.’ The reason? ’Big agency managements are either
’waspish’ or Jewish. But whatever they are, they’re invariably quite old
- and almost all of them are men.’