Tribunal finds against WPP’s JWT in (white male) discrimination case

Is it any better to discriminate against “straight white men” than people of other genders and ethnicities?

Positive discrimination may be one way of levelling a playing field but not, surely, when it means people losing their jobs. But that’s what seems to have happened at venerable JWT (left, now Wunderman Thompson) when it dispensed with a number of the above following public comments from creative director Jo Wallace that the agency wanted to “obliterate” its reputation for being a home to such privileged people. Five men were involved in all.

A case was brought in 2018 by two of the UK-based men who were made redundant by the agency, creative director Chas Bayfield and his colleague Dave Jenner, who both claimed they were released because they were straight, white and male.

That’s the last we heard of it until Adweek’s Stephen Lepitak discovered that a judgement had been reached, finding in the men’s favour. A settlement is seemingly being discussed but everyone seems to be staying quiet, as often happens in such cases (Ms Wallace might have profited from doing the same.)

A Wunderman Thompson statement reads: “We are giving careful consideration to the tribunal’s ruling on events that took place within the J. Walter Thompson business in 2018. Since then, we have taken many steps to ensure that we provide an inclusive workplace in which everyone is treated fairly and we do not tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment.”

This is beyond embarrassing for WT and owner WPP. JWT, as an independent entity before WPP CEO merged it with Wunderman, was, as a WPP senior manager privately admitted, “sunk below the waterline” by the Gustavo Martinez case in 2016 when its chief communications officer Erin Johnson filed a discrimination suit against global CEO Martinez for sexist behaviour. After much huffing and puffing from WPP Johnson won and Martinez left.

Details of the settlement with the white, straight five will probably remain private. but as an example of how and agency can lurch from one ghastly cock-up to its polar extreme, this one will probably go down in history.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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