Recently departed RAPP U.S. president Greg Andersen has sued his former employer alleging wrongful termination, retaliation and discrimination in a suit echoing the case that recently led to the resignation of J. Walter Thompson global chairman and CEO Gustavo Martinez.
The lawsuit filed Monday in Los Angeles against RAPP Worldwide and RAPP California by the law firm of Rushovich Mehtani LLP claims that CEO Alexei Orlov fired Andersen for reporting on the chief executive's allegedly "destructive" behavior to global head of human resources Carolyn Doud and one of parent company Omnicom's in-house attorneys.
The full filing cites the agency's "repeated failures to show basic respect for the civil rights of various employees" and accuses Orlov of subjecting his staff to "sexual and racial harassment, gender and age discrimination, and retaliation for trying to put an end to such injustices."
After this story first ran, an agency spokesperson provided Adweek with a statement reading, "RAPP is aware that Greg Andersen has filed a complaint and denies that any unlawful conduct occurred. Mr. Anderson's position with RAPP was eliminated and we are not able to comment further." The spokesperson added, "RAPP has, and enforces, policies prohibiting discrimination and retaliation on the basis of gender, race, age, disability, sexual orientation or any other legally protected status." Aanand Mehtani of Rushovich Mehtani LLP declined to comment on the case.
Orlov joined RAPP as global CEO in June 2014 after serving as chief marketing officer for Volkswagen's China region. His previous agency experience includes executive roles at Interpublic Group and WPP's Wunderman, where he was worldwide executive vice chairman.
The suit claims Orlov immediately "created a hostile work environment" after joining RAPP and "demonstrated through his comments and actions that he harbored discriminatory animus against women and various racial and ethnic groups."
Specifically, Andersen claims he witnessed Orlov referring to unnamed women as "fat cows" on "several occasions" and that the CEO once chided a Jewish employee for being "miserly with money." According to the suit, Orlov also pressured an employee working on the agency's Pfizer account to acquire Viagra for him without a prescription, claiming he needed the drug "because he has a young wife." Andersen claims that he then reported the incident to the managing director of RAPP New York.
Orlov also allegedly declined to promote an unnamed female executive whom Andersen was "grooming" for a leadership position, stating that she was "too pretty" to be taken seriously.
According to the suit, Orlov dismissed a claim of sexual harassment against another RAPP leader. Andersen witnessed a "drunk" executive speculate "loudly" that an unnamed female employee was not wearing underwear, the suit states. When Andersen reported the violation to Orlov, he allegedly responded with an email reading, "I do not want to see this man's demise." The executive in question remains a RAPP employee.
The filing claims that many RAPP employees were fearful of Orlov, who was known as "vindictive" and allegedly told approximately 70 people at a meeting in the agency's Dallas office, "Mess with my brand or my direction and I will break off your finger and shove it up your ass."
Nonetheless, Andersen allegedly encouraged other staff members to file complaints about Orlov's behavior, facilitated an investigation by human resources and the agency's legal department and eventually lost his job for speaking out.
Andersen also claims that his age may have played a role in Orlov's decision to fire him, noting that he heard the CEO state that he "did not want [his] company filled with people in their forties or fifties" in front of Doud and other agency leaders on "several occasions."
In claiming damages inflicted by Orlov and RAPP, the suit states that Andersen has suffered for "telling the truth about the unlawful and discriminatory mistreatment of various employees of Defendant." Andersen claims he was terminated directly after returning from a vacation in April.
Adweek's AgencySpy blog reported that he had been let go after nearly three years with the agency, but RAPP gave no reason for his abrupt departure at the time. Andersen previously served as CEO of BBH New York and was promoted to lead U.S. operations at RAPP after serving as managing director of its Los Angeles office.