Two men made redundant after voicing concerns at an advertising agency’s intention to “obliterate” its “Knightsbridge boys club” reputation in light of a damning gender pay gap have won their sex discrimination case.
Chas Bayfield and David Jenner won their claim at London Central employment tribunal for direct sex discrimination and victimisation against J Walter Thompson (JWT), after the ad agency made the two middle-aged, white creative directors redundant in 2018.
Their dismissals came just days after the pair raised concerns about a conference presentation titled “Crisis: The Mother of All Change” by Jo Wallace, a creative director appointed to help the agency lose its boys club reputation, and executive creative director, Lucas Peon.
Sex discrimination and the gender pay gap
JWT’s 2017-18 gender pay gap report found that women at the company earned 55p for every £1 that men earn when comparing median hourly pay. “In the World Cup of sucking at pay gap numbers, we made the final,” Peon said at the conference, according to The Drum at the time.
In the talk, Wallace said: “One thing we all agree on is that the reputation JWT once earned — as being full of white, British, privileged [men] — has to be obliterated.”
Her comment was made alongside a slide saying, “White, British, privileged, straight men creating traditional above the line advertising”, which then appeared crossed out at the mention of the word “obliterated”.
Much of the presentation was uncontroversial, said the tribunal judgment, while also hard-hitting. JWT described the gender pay gap figures as “horrible” and “embarrassing”. It stated that the firm had been “actively recruiting fresh female talent” and that it was “vital that we do what it takes to ensure these women remain in the business and rise to the top”.
Two days later Bayfield wrote an email, which read: “I found out recently JWT did a talk off-site where it vowed to obliterate white, middle-class straight people from its creative department. There are a lot of very worried people down here.”
The leadership said there was a misunderstanding and that the idea was to obliterate the firm’s reputation, not white males, but the following week, although the exact timing was disputed, it was decided that the two creative directors and three other senior creatives had been selected for redundancy.
However, the redundancy scoring was a “sham designed to ensure the predetermined decision to dismiss the claimants was seen to be justified” according to Employment Judge Emery.
In an 80-page judgment, the tribunal concluded that “the decision to dismiss was related to the fact the claimants are men, that this was a conscious motivation in the decision to dismiss, for reasons including the desire to improve the gender balance in its senior creative team [and] the improvement to the gender pay gap figures which would result in their dismissal”.
Claims of harassment related to the claimants’ sex also succeeded but claims relating to age, sexual orientation and race discrimination did not.
Bayfield has said he has since struggled to find work while Jenner has left the industry, adding that they have been perceived as whistleblowers in the ad world.
He said: “We were concerned about diversity and female and minority representation but we were also worried about our job safety – the word ‘obliterated’ is a powerful word.
“The gender pay gap was mortifying for the company – because it was an awful gap – and their approach was to go gung-ho on who they perceived to be the enemy. They rigged up a kangaroo court and fired us.”
In 2019 JWT was merged with fellow agency Wunderman to form Wunderman Thompson. Both companies were owned by holding company WPP.
Wunderman Thompson’s latest gender pay gap report (2020-21) recorded a gap in median hourly earnings of 21.4%, down from 44.7% in 2017-18.
In a statement, Wunderman Thompson said: “We will be appealing the tribunal’s ruling on events that took place within the J Walter Thompson business in 2018. We do not tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment and are committed to providing an inclusive workplace in which everyone is treated fairly.
“We would like to make clear that no claim was brought against Jo Wallace. She did not dismiss the claimants, and was not involved in the redundancy decision-making process. We are shocked and appalled by the personal attacks aimed at Jo and condemn this behaviour. We ask that people treat Jo with respect and kindness.”
This article was changed on 26 July 2021 to clarify that Chas Bayfield and David Jenner’s sex discrimination and victimisation claim was against J Walter Thompson not Wunderman Thompson, which did not exist at that time.