Two advertising executives have won a sex discrimination claim against a top agency after a director vowed to “obliterate” its reputation for being run by “straight, white men”.
Chas Bayfield and Dave Jenner, both creative directors, were made redundant by the J Walter Thompson (JWT) agency when bosses reacted “furiously” to them questioning a sweeping diversity drive.
The global firm, which had long-standing clients including Unilever, Ford Motor and HSBC, “urgently” set out to overhaul its company culture after a report highlighted a gender pay gap of 45 per cent, a tribunal heard.
A female company director was appointed to tackle its “Knightsbridge Boys’ Club” reputation and a conference, called “The Mother of All Change”, was arranged.
Jo Wallace, the new director, introduced herself as a gay woman when she laid out her vision to the conference, the London Central Tribunal heard.
She told the event in May 2018: “One thing we all agree on is that the reputation JWT once earnt – as being full of white, British, privileged [men] – has to be obliterated.”
Ms Wallace, who has been described as a “fearless champion of female success”, vowed to tackle the dominance of “white, British, privileged, straight men creating traditional, above-the-line advertising”.
News of the “hard-hitting” presentation was said to have alarmed Mr Bayfield and Mr Jenner, who claimed they felt compelled to approach their managers to express “valid” concerns over the safety of their jobs.
Both men are in their 50s, straight, white and British, the tribunal heard, and had worked on several successful television adverts while at JWT.
In one email, Mr Bayfield said to a superior: “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.”
They were called to a meeting with Lucas Peon, the executive creative director, and Emma Hoyle, the HR director, to discuss their concerns about job safety.
However, despite stating their belief that women and minorities should have a fair chance, the two men found themselves angrily accused of challenging the company’s diversity pledge, the tribunal was told.
Within two days it had been decided that Mr Bayfield and Mr Jenner would be made redundant.
The pair subsequently began legal action against Wunderman Thompson – the firm’s new name following a merger – for sex discrimination.
On Friday, employment Judge Mark Emery ruled in the men’s favour, concluding the hostile manner in which they were treated amounted to “victimisation”.
He found the JWT bosses had unfairly “rid” themselves of Mr Bayfield and Mr Jenner, because it “immediately assisted the gender pay-gap issue”.
The judge said: “We concluded there was a consensus among the senior management team that Mr Bayfield and Mr Jenner had overstepped the mark with their comments in their emails and at the meeting, that there was anger at what [the company] considered a challenge to their plans on the gender pay-gap issue.”
He said the tribunal considered the gender pay gap to be a “significant factor” in the minds of the senior managers, adding: “A reason for dismissing Mr Bayfield and Mr Jenner was 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.”
A woman in a similar position would not have faced the same backlash, the judge continued.
Mr Bayfield and Mr Jenner won claims of sex discrimination, victimisation, harassment and unfair dismissal. They are now in line to receive compensation from Wunderman Thompson.
They lost claims of age discrimination, race discrimination, and sexual orientation discrimination after the judge ruled they had no impact on their dismissal.
Following the hearing, Mr Bayfield claimed he had since struggled to find work and said of his former employer: “They rigged up a kangaroo court and fired us.”