WASHINGTON: A former Porter Novelli contractor is suing the agency, its former global president Jennifer Swint, parent company Omnicom Group and its PR arm Omnicom Public Relations Group for discrimination and breach of contract.
Nyree Wright signed a contractor agreement with Porter in September 2018 and began working for the agency on October 15, 2018, according to the suit filed last November in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and other legal documents shared with PRWeek. The deal was a precursor to Wright being hired as a full-time employee; Porter also sent a formal offer in September.
Although former agency CEO Brad MacAfee and other executives praised Wright via email for winning business within weeks of starting, her contract with Porter was terminated on November 27, 2018, according to legal documents shared with PRWeek.
Porter declined to comment on the lawsuit, but in an emailed statement said it “prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, race, age, disability, sexual orientation or any other legally protected status.” MacAfee and Swint did not respond to requests seeking comment.
Wright’s suit alleges that Porter’s “actions discriminated against Ms. Wright by reason of her race and sex,” as well as misrepresenting what her duties would be and breaching the contract that spelled out her duties.
Specifically, Wright said problems began not long after she voiced concerns to Swint about being asked to handle a project for the American Public Transportation Association, an assignment that initially appeared to be within Wright’s wheelhouse, according to legal documents.
“This opportunity has changed significantly since you appointed me to take it on, and I’m not comfortable I have the IP to succeed here,” Wright wrote in an email to Swint on November 6, 2018, citing the project’s 10-day timeline, her short tenure at Porter and lack of public affairs experience.
“I am a team player,” she added, according to the legal documents, “but in this case need more support from you.”
Swint initially replied that Wright’s concerns were not a problem, according to the legal filings. But in a November 27 meeting, Swint and a Porter HR executive said Wright wasn’t “a good fit” for Porter and told her she was being terminated because of her reluctance to work on the project.
“Honestly, I felt and still feel that I was dismissed for a role I wasn’t hired to do, and I am just seeking what is owed,” Wright told PRWeek.
Filing a lawsuit, Wright told PRWeek, was not her first choice. Before she hired a lawyer, Wright reached out to MacAfee, asking for an explanation.
“[After] it quickly came to my attention that they weren’t aware of what [Swint] did,” Wright told PRWeek, “I reached out to [MacAfee and other executives] and forwarded them the series of events that had occurred in the days preceding my termination … Brad responded saying thank you and letting me know he planned on getting to the bottom of this.”
In December 2018, she asked MacAfee personally, after bumping into him at an event. Wright told PRWeek that MacAfee told her that he was trying to get to the bottom of the matter and that he was still confused about how the events had unfolded. “I reached out one more time and never heard back and that’s when I decided [to sue],” she said.
“I engaged counsel in January of 2019 to try and get this settled and quite frankly just claim what was owed to me. And [Porter] refused to come to the table,” Wright told PRWeek. “We were literally, up till two days before we filed, reaching out to say, ‘Hey. We are filing but you are always welcome to call us.’ And they didn’t.”
An amended court schedule lists discovery requests on July 17 and dispositive motions, mediation and a pretrial conference set for later this year.