Chas Bayfield, one of the two male ex-J Walter Thompson executives who have won a sex discrimination case against the WPP agency after it made them redundant, says other employees in the ad industry should be “encouraged” by the ruling.
Bayfield and another colleague, Dave Jenner, who are both in their 50s, claimed they were ousted from JWT as part of a diversity drive in 2018 and an employment tribunal in London has now ruled that they were discriminated against “because of their sex”.
The pair are set to receive undisclosed compensation from Wunderman Thompson, the successor company to JWT. In addition to winning claims of sex discrimination and unfair dismissal, their claims for victimisation and harassment “succeed in part”, the tribunal said.
Bayfield, speaking after the tribunal’s ruling was published on 22 July, told Campaign: “We definitely were discriminated against because of things that we had no control over and we don’t want that happening to anyone else, which is why we went to tribunal. We want people to be encouraged by that and feel a little bit safer in their jobs on Monday.”
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.”
Huge media interest in the case
The case has attracted huge interest from national news media because Bayfield, Jenner and three other colleagues who also lost their jobs were white, straight men.
Campaign first broke the news of the legal case in November 2018 when it was alleged Bayfield, Jenner and three other colleagues had been made redundant after they raised concerns about comments made by Jo Wallace, creative director of JWT, at a Creative Equals conference in May.
Wallace introduced herself as a gay woman and said she wanted to “obliterate” the reputation that the agency was full of white, privileged straight men after the company announced a gender pay gap of 44.7%.
She was speaking – alongside Lucas Peon, then executive creative director at JWT – not long after the publication of the first mandatory reports by UK companies on gender pay gaps and they revealed that JWT UK had the biggest gap in advertising.
Bayfield and Jenner expressed concerns about the safety of their jobs, with Bayfield sending an internal email 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.”
The five men were among those who lost their jobs later that year in a redundancy process – at a time when JWT and its parent company, WPP, were under-performing.
“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,” Bayfield said. “They rigged up a kangaroo court and fired us.”
What the tribunal said
In an 80-page judgement published on 22 July, employment judge Mark Emery said: “We considered whether the claimants’ dismissal was because of their sex. We concluded that it was. We considered that the respondents viewed the senior creative team as male-dominated, and a significant reason for the gender pay gap figures being so poor, particularly in the creative department.
“We considered that a significant factor in the respondents’ minds at this time was the gender pay gap issue, and that 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.”
As well as succeeding in their claim for sex discrimination and unfair dismissal against the agency, their claims of victimisation and unfair dismissal were also upheld in part.
But claims made by the men that they were discriminated against for their age, sexual orientation and race were dismissed.
Wunderman Thompson had countered all the complaints and stated the men had been fairly selected for redundancy.
Bayfield acknowledged he and Jenner had not won all of their claims but said: “It feels that justice was done.”
Asked to describe how he and his other former colleagues had coped with the redundancy and subsequent legal process, Bayfield said: “Awfully.”
The stress affected him “physically”. He didn’t receive “a single job offer” from other agencies and his health also suffered because of “not having any work after Covid hit because all freelancers got let go”.
Bayfield is planning to move from the UK to Tasmania – where his wife is from – largely because of the impact of his exit from JWT. He plans to stay in advertising but it is thought Jenner has left the industry.
He admitted that, as a white male, he did not feel entirely comfortable in pursuing a discrimination case: “I feel a bit awkward about it because the legislation was there to protect people who were really vulnerable – whether it was black people, gay people, other minorities.
“For it to be have to be used to protect white, British men, I can’t quite get my head around it. It tempers the joy of winning because there are a lot of people who aren’t winning in our world, still, and that’s what that legislation is there for.”
He said he hoped that the ad industry could learn from the case at a time when there is pressure to improve inclusion, diversity and belonging.
“Agencies should and must work tirelessly to expand the gene pool. I’ve always been in favour and supportive of people who represent all different aspects of society being in advertising,” he said.
“If people don’t know that advertising is there as a career for them because they’ve been written off for whatever reasons or they assume it’s a boys’ club or it’s just a white-only enclave, they’re obviously not going to apply for it.
“And advertising agencies need to put in some proper grassroots work at schools, wherever they need to, to encourage everybody who they want to be in the agency to pick advertising as a career.
“I was just very disappointed that JWT saw the best answer to their gender pay gap was to pick a fight with who they perceived the enemy to be, which is older, white, British straight men and remove them from the workforce.
“And the tribunal seemed to be as amazed as we were that they actually did it. It was such a crass way of dealing with a really complex and important problem and it just belittled it.
“The reason we went all the way to tribunal is we want agencies to know they can’t legally behave like this – they can’t just dismiss them [employees] because of their protected characteristics, just because it doesn’t fit with their [the employer’s corporate] agenda.”
Despite failing to win on the grounds of age discrimination, Bayfield said it is a major issue: “A former colleague talked to me earlier today who has just settled [with another non-WPP agency] and he wasn’t allowed into meetings for a year and a half because they didn’t want any grey hairs in meetings.”
Fall-out from the case
Alexandra Thompson, an employment lawyer at Withers Worldwide, did not comment directly on the tribunal’s judgement but said there are wider implications: “There has been a spotlight on discrimination in the advertising industry for years and cases like these will hopefully make employers stand up to their obligations regarding equality and diversity.”
She predicted it could to lead to more legal claims over discrimination by both women and men: “Whenever you get momentum behind something, more people come forward [because they see it’s possible to win at a tribunal]. It will encourage more people to raise grievances and claims.”
Many national newspapers and websites have been reporting the tribunal’s verdict – with some tabloids focusing on the role of Wallace.
A Wunderman Thompson spokesperson pointed out: “No claim was brought against Jo Wallace in relation to the events that took place within the J. Walter Thompson business in 2018. She did not dismiss the claimants, and was not involved in the redundancy decision-making process.”
(This article first appeared on CampaignLive.co.uk)