Joe Alexander, the former chief creative officer at The Martin Agency who was dismissed in late 2017 amid an allegation of sexual harassment of an employee, has filed a $50.35 million lawsuit against the Richmond advertising company.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Richmond Circuit Court, also names as defendants The Martin Agency’s parent company, New York-based Interpublic Group of Cos., and Kristen Cavallo, the Martin Agency’s chief executive officer since December 2017.
The lawsuit also names two other defendants: Sissy Estes, a former Martin Agency employee, and Tara E. Hanley, whom the lawsuit identifies as a lawyer licensed in Texas who in 2011 represented a Martin Agency employee in a sexual harassment claim against the firm and Alexander.
The 78-page lawsuit, filed by Charlottesville attorney Steven Biss, claims that the allegations against Alexander were “concocted,” “completely false” and were used “as a pretext” to terminate his employment in December 2017.
The lawsuit claims the defendants “secretly leaked the terms of a confidential settlement agreement that Martin and Joe (Alexander) had entered into in 2013 to resolve a disputed accusation, and disclosed the contents of confidential human resources files to an anonymous #MeToo Instagram account called, ‘Diet Madison Avenue,’ knowing that DMA (Diet Madison Avenue) intended to republish the confidential information as part of a #MeToo crusade against white, male, chief creative officers at prominent advertising agencies.”
Diet Madison Avenue is an anonymous social media entity that named men accused of sexual harassment and related offenses on Instagram and Twitter.
In September, Alexander brought a separate, $25.35 million defamation lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Richmond against advertising industry trade publication Adweek and its former senior editor, Patrick Coffee, as well as Diet Madison Avenue and the “collective” of 17 people behind it.
That lawsuit, also filed by Biss, alleges Adweek and Coffee published defamatory articles about Alexander in late 2017 and throughout 2018 and 2019.
In a statement, The Martin Agency’s parent company Interpublic Group said Alexander’s lawsuit “is without merit, not to mention contrary to Joe Alexander’s signed agreement with our company and written apologies.”
“We stand by our actions and will defend our position, and pursue all applicable counterclaims, vigorously,” the company said.
The lawsuit lists numerous accomplishments attributed to Alexander during his 26-year career with the company and five years as chief creative officer, including the growth of its Walmart account to “the largest in agency history with over $45 million in revenue.”“Beginning in November 2017 and continuing thereafter, the defendants robbed Joe (Alexander) of his entire life’s work, destroyed his name and reputation, and permanently impaired his ability to find employment in the advertising industry,” the lawsuit says.
In a statement, Cavallo also defended the company’s actions.
“It’s never been about Joe or #metoo for us,” Cavallo said. “Karen [Costello, the firm’s chief creative officer,] and I are the leaders of ‘what came next.’ Our actions are a reflection of our values, not a reaction to the past. We can have transparency, wage equality, extended parental leave, a true commitment to a diverse workforce, while creating work our clients prosper from, people talk about and our employees are proud of. Our focus is on the future and the agency’s progress.”