Ad men sacked to improve gender pay gap win sex discrimination claim

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Ad men sacked to improve gender pay gap win sex discrimination claim

London tribunal rules men axed after director vowed to ‘obliterate’ J Walter Thompson’s reputation of ‘being full of white men’

Mad Men

Last modified on Fri 23 Jul 2021 14.27 EDT

Two white male creative directors at a top London advertising agency have won a sex discrimination claim after a female director vowed to “obliterate” its Mad Men reputation of being full of straight, white men.

Chas Bayfield and Dave Jenner, both in their 50s and renowned creative directors at the J Walter Thompson (JWT) agency, were among five men axed from the agency, which is part of WPP, because bosses “urgently” wanted to address its poor gender pay gap, a tribunal court ruled.

The men were dismissed in November 2018, shortly after the firm revealed a median gender pay gap of 44.7%. The London Central tribunal heard that the pay gap report had sent “shock waves” through the firm as it highlighted a serious lack of female representation.

The agency’s then executive creative director, Lucas Peon, described the pay gap statistics as “really, really horrible”. “In the World Cup of sucking at pay gap numbers, we made the final,” he said at the time.

A female creative director, Jo Wallace, was appointed to help the company shake off its reputation as a “Knightsbridge boys’ club” where “white, straight men create above-the-line advertising”.

She organised a diversity conference entitled Crisis: The Mother of All Change. At the conference Wallace, who introduced herself as a gay woman, 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.”

After the conference Bayfield, 52, and Jenner, 50, who the tribunal heard are both white British and straight, expressed concerns about the safety of their jobs.

Bayfield, who made the famous Blackcurrant Tango St George advert, had sent an email to his superior stating: “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.”

Peon and Emma Hoyle, the company’s human resources director, called a meeting with Bayfield and Jenner to discuss their concerns. The tribunal heard that bosses thought the men were challenging the diversity drive. Within two days of the meeting, it had been decided that Bayfield and Jenner would be made redundant.

The employment judge Mark Emery said the men were treated in such a hostile manner it amounted to “victimisation”.

In his judgment, Judge Emery said: “Both Ms Hoyle and Mr Peon were angry from the outset of the meeting, and it continued in this vein. Voices were raised by Mr Peon and Ms Hoyle, and Mr Bayfield and Mr Jenner were forced to defend their position. Their explanations were not at the time accepted and their points of view were angrily dismissed. [There was a] failure to accept that they had any valid concerns about the presentation … their views were regarded as unacceptable.”

The judge said Peon unfairly decided to make the men redundant before carrying out an assessment of other senior creatives to see who should be axed on the merit of their work.

“We concluded there was a consensus amongst 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,” Emery said.

“We considered that this factor, their sex, was on the mind of [the company] when determining to dismiss them, an equal factor with that of the anger at their complaints.

“This would immediately assist the gender pay gap issue within the creative team, it would rid the team of two creative directors who were, because of their sex, seen as resistant to change; also, female creative directors were exactly what [the company] were seeking.”

A woman in a similar position would not have faced the same backlash, the judge said.

Bayfield and Jenner are in line to receive compensation from Wunderman Thompson (a successor to JWT) after winning claims of sex discrimination, victimisation, harassment and unfair dismissal.

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However, they lost claims of age discrimination, race discrimination, and sexual orientation discrimination after the judge ruled these factors had no impact on their dismissal.

After the ruling Bayfield said on Friday: “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.”

The three other male creatives who were sacked settled out of court.

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