The head of one of Madison Avenue’s biggest ad agencies is out of a job a week after he was hit with an explosive lawsuit accusing him of making crude and offensive comments about women, Jews and blacks.
Gustavo Martinez is stepping down as chairman and global chief executive officer of J. Walter Thompson, effective immediately, the agency’s parent company, UK giant WPP, said Thursday.
“By mutual agreement, Martinez has resigned in the best interest of the J. Walter Thompson Company,” according to the statement.
He will be replaced by Tamara Ingram, WPP’s chief client officer. She will be the first female CEO in the history of the 152-year-old agency, whose Fortune 500 clients include Ford, Johnson & Johnson and Macy’s.
Martinez was slapped with a discrimination suit last week by the agency’s long-time chief communications officer, Erin Johnson, accusing him of an “unending stream of racist and sexist comments, as well as unwanted touching.”
The allegations, first reported by The Post, put JWT in a tough spot as it seeks to portray the firm as a place that values diversity rather than a “Mad Men”-era relic run by white men and fueled by three-martini lunches.
Martinez, in front of other staff, said to Johnson, “Come here, so I can rape you in the bathroom,” then grabbed her around the neck and started laughing, the suit claims.
The CEO also complained there were too many “f- -king Jews” in Westchester County and called black people “monkeys,” according to the complaint filed in Manhattan federal court.
Johnson’s suit also refers to a video that she claims captures Martinez’s behavior. In the video, he tells employees that the Miami hotel where they are staying for a work event is “tricky” — referring to black people — and that he was afraid of “being raped, and not in a nice way” on the elevator, the suit claims.
Earlier this week, lawyers for Johnson requested approval from Judge Paul Oetken to have the taped footage made public as part of her amended complaint.
WPP’s lawyers sent a letter on Thursday objecting to the request, saying the tape includes “highly confidential and proprietary” information about JWT specifically its process for delivering “best ideas” to clients and that divulging the agency’s thinking to rivals would damage it.
Martinez denied the accusations last week, saying there was “absolutely no truth to these outlandish allegations, and I am confident that this will be proven in court.”
The agency’s superiors at WPP appeared to stand by him initially when it said an examination of e-mails turned up no evidence. The next day, however, WPP said it had launched an investigation and was taking the allegations “very seriously.”