Erin Johnson: 'I hope my experience will encourage others to speak up'

The former JWT comms chief's two-year legal battle with Gustavo Martinez has come to an end.

At the end of her two-year legal battle with WPP's Gustavo Martinez, Erin Johnson said she hopes her personal experience will encourage others to speak up.

The former JWT chief communications officer accepted a settlement for an undisclosed figure in the sexual harassment case, both sides said on Wednesday.

Johnson, who has resigned from JWT, thanked friends and family, industry supporters, and her lawyers.

"I hope that my personal experience will encourage others to speak up and follow their convictions," she told Campaign US. "Moving forward, I wish [JWT CEO Tamara Ingram] and the JWT team success."

Martinez is still working for WPP on projects in Spain, JWT confirmed.

A spokesperson for JWT said, "J. Walter Thompson today announced they have reached an amicable settlement agreement with Erin Johnson, chief communications officer, J. Walter Thompson, in the Johnson vs. JWT et al. lawsuit. The terms of the agreement are confidential and will not be disclosed."

For months, the case seemed to have no end in sight. The agency’s dedication to fighting the suit every step of the way may be rooted in the reasons the company decided to litigate in the first place: their man was a star. "From the very beginning, in New York the feeling was Gustavo was the victim," a former executive at JWT New York told Campaign US recently. By most accounts, he was gregarious and likeable, a leader with a good head for business, who placed more emphasis on people’s ideas than their rank within the agency hierarchy.

Those qualities also endeared him to WPP CEO Martin Sorrell, said the executive: "Gustavo was one of Martin’s prodigies. He was grooming him, maybe even moving him up to be his successor." So when the suit was filed, the agency naturally stepped up to defend him.

The news comes as an independent counsel investigates Sorrell over an allegation of personal misconduct. The investigation is not related to Johnson's settlement, according to a JWT spokesperson. 

A person with knowledge of the matter told Campaign that Johnson's settlement "was negotiated and signed some weeks ago and was announced today as Erin has just stepped down."

In an email via communications consultancy Project Associates, which "acts for Sir Martin Sorrell in his personal capacity," according to the firm, Sorrell stated, "Reports in the media have stated that WPP is investigating an allegation of financial impropriety by me, specifically as to the use of company funds. This allegation is being investigated by a law firm. I reject the allegation unreservedly but recognize that the company has to investigate it."

The statement added, "I understand that this process will be completed shortly. Obviously, I shall play no part in the management of the investigation under way. As a significant share owner, my commitment to the company, which I founded over 30 years ago, remains absolute - to our people, our clients, our shareholders, and all of our many stakeholders. I do not intend to make any further statement at this time."

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