Male advertisers axed after complaint about diversity talk win sex discrimination case

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Two male creative directors at a leading advertising agency have won a claim for sex discrimination after a presentation that called on the firm to “obliterate” its reputation for being staffed by “white, British, privileged, straight men”.

A three-judge tribunal ruled this month that Chas Bayfield and Dave Jenner were unfairly dismissed by WPP-owned Wunderman Thompson UK after raising fears about a diversity presentation.

The two men alleged they were subjected to discrimination, victimised and later selected for redundancy after they complained in May 2018 about a diversity presentation at the agency.

The advertising agency had claimed that Bayfield, who helped devise a famous Blackcurrant Tango advert in the late 1990s, and Jenner were fairly selected in a redundancy process.

Companies in many sectors are grappling with how to boost diversity, especially among executives, and close pay gaps between different sexes and ethnicities.

The tribunal ruling noted that Wunderman Thompson had a mean gender pay gap of 38.8 per cent in 2017 and an internal report had described it as “very disappointing”.

Shortly afterwards Jo Wallace, a creative director, and a colleague Lucas Peon had given a presentation described by the tribunal as mostly “uncontroversial, if also hard-hitting”.

It stated that the advertising agency had “over the years, had a reputation as a Knightsbridge boys club”, according to the ruling.

But the tribunal noted there was “significant controversy” about certain slides used in the presentation and the accompanying commentary, which stated “the reputation JWT once earnt as being full of ‘white, British, privileged, straight men creating traditional above-the-line advertising’ . . . has to be obliterated”.

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Bayfield responded to the presentation by sending an email to a senior executive at the agency, expressing fears that the presentation had “vowed to obliterate white middle-class straight people from [the agency’s] creative department. There are a lot of very worried people down here.”

The two men then submitted a joint grievance to the company stating they had “valid complaints” of “discrimination on the basis of our gender, race, nationality, sexuality and age”. They were made redundant two months later.

Bayfield told the Financial Times that Wunderman had tried to “take this group you don’t want any more, move them away and replace them with people that you do want”.

With white men over-represented at many companies, especially at senior level, “it’s easy to see [them] as a problem, but you can’t just fire them”, Bayfield added.

The tribunal concluded that the grievance process and its conclusion amounted to victimisation. “There were obvious failures in the process, and the investigation was not a fair and proper one,” the judges found.

Judge Mark Emery, who gave the ruling, said: “We next considered whether the claimants’ dismissal was because of their sex. We concluded that it was.”

“A reason for dismissing the claimants was that there would be an impact, both in terms of the figures, and by the prospect of having senior positions opening which could be filled by women,” he added.

Wunderman Thompson said it would appeal against the tribunal’s ruling, adding that it does “not tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment and [is] committed to providing an inclusive workplace in which everyone is treated fairly”.

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