WPP tells court not to allow 'rape joke' video

Holding company argues "filing the video is unnecessary," accuses Johnson's laywers of trying case in the media

WPP CEO Martin Sorrell.
WPP CEO Martin Sorrell.

WPP lawyers are objecting to a request by Erin Johnson’s legal team to submit as evidence a video that purportedly claims to show former J. Walter Thompson chairman and chief executive Gustavo Martinez, who resigned today from his post as CEO, making a rape joke in front of agency executives.

A letter sent today from WPP firm Davis & Gilbert to a US District Court judge argues that the video, which Johnson’s legal team has said shows Martinez making some of the racist jokes detailed in the discrimination suit, should not be annexed because it contains propriety information about the agency’s strategic process and contains footage that the defendants have not seen.

"First, as a threshold matter," the letter states, "the video relates to the development and testing of a process that is highly confidential and proprietary to JWT. … JWT has endeavored to keep the thinking behind the process confidential and disclosure to competitors through a public filing would cause significant damage to it."

The letter continues, "We have not seen a copy of the video that Plaintiff’s counsel seeks to file because Plaintiff, in her role of Chief Communications Officer of JWT, directed the videographer to delete the portion of the tape that is referred to in the Amended Complaint and the raw footage of the meeting was thereafter destroyed."

It goes on to state that Johnson "apparently kept the only copy of that fuller version," one that "JWT did not even know existed," and that repeated requests made for a copy of the video in question have been refused.

The letter concludes by saying, "These facts raise genuine issues regarding the admissibility of this video, which should be resolved at the appropriate time in the litigation," and that there is "no reason for Plaintiff to file this video at this time other than to continue Plaintiff’s counsel’s efforts to try this case in the press."

The WPP lawyer, Howard Rubin, then points to an article in Campaign US that quoted Johnson’s lawyer stating, "What is in the complaint, particularly paragraphs 39 and 40, which describe what was said at that meeting, where there were 60 people — including management and HR — was from the tape."

The letter concludes, "Thus, by Plaintiff’s counsel’s admission, the filing of the video is unnecessary."

The video, Johnson’s lawyers said on Sunday, was the source of the quotes detailed in the section of the suit that alleges Martinez joked about being raped "but not in a nice way" by African-American guests at a Miami hotel in which JWT was holding a company meeting. The suit alleges that Martinez "made numerous comments about rape" in front of a room of employees that included senior management.

While Martinez issued a statement denying the accusations the day the suit was filed, declaring "there is absolutely no truth to these outlandish allegations," and WPP too stated the same day that its inquiry into the allegations had "found nothing, as yet, to substantiate those charges," today the holding company said that a mutual decision had been made that Martinez would resign immediately and that Tamara Ingram, WPP’s chief client team officer, had been named chief executive officer.

"By mutual agreement, Martinez has resigned in the best interest of the J. Walter Thompson Company," the statement said.

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