NEW YORK, May 20 (Reuters) - Lawyers for former J. Walter Thompson chief executive Gustavo Martinez on Friday struck back against a high-ranking colleague who accused him of sexist and racist behavior, saying her high-profile lawsuit failed to show a hostile work environment at the advertising agency.
In papers filed with the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, lawyers for Martinez and J. Walter Thompson said chief communications officer Erin Johnson based her case on sporadic, “isolated” comments, including references to rape and sex, that she took out of context or which had nothing to do with her.
They said Johnson failed to show her bonus and duties were cut in retaliation for complaints about gender bias and Martinez’s alleged “unwanted touching,” and faulted her for appearing to have bypassed the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before suing.
“It is clear that plaintiff has twisted the facts and distorted the context to contrive a gender-based hostile work environment and retaliation claims,” wrote lawyers for J. Walter Thompson, a unit of Britain’s WPP Plc.
Jeremiah Iadevaia, a lawyer for Johnson, said his firm was reviewing the defendants’ papers.
“It appears that they are making technical legal arguments in order to avoid a review on the merits in court,” he said in an interview.
Johnson remains on paid leave, Iadevaia added.
Martinez, an Argentina native raised in Spain, resigned as J. Walter Thompson’s chief executive on March 17, one week after Johnson sued. He was replaced by WPP chief client team officer Tamara Ingram.
The lawsuit has increased attention on business practices and attitudes within the advertising industry.
On April 28, WPP, run by Martin Sorrell, cited events at J. Walter Thompson in announcing steps to enhance its anti-discrimination policies as to “gender, race, diversity and sensitivity, including unconscious bias, both for men and women.”
Johnson’s lawsuit has also drawn attention for a May 2015 video shot at a Miami hotel, where Martinez made comments to employees about there being “different and strange characters in the elevator” and that he thought he was “going to be raped” there. A partially redacted video was posted online last month.
Martinez’s lawyers said the video suggested that Johnson took their client’s comments out of context, while J. Walter Thompson’s lawyers said the only reason to put it online was “to try this case in the press and attempt to intentionally harm JWT.”
The case is Johnson v. J. Walter Thompson USA LLC et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 16-01805. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York)