Two middle-aged men at a top 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, renowned creative directors at JWT, were axed from the leading ad agency because bosses urgently wanted to address its poor gender pay gap.
A damning gender pay gap report had sent “shock waves” through the firm, as it highlighted there was a serious lack of female representation, a tribunal was told.
Jo Wallace, a female creative director, was appointed to help lose the company’s “Knightsbridge Boys Club” reputation and jointly held a diversity conference called “Crisis: The Mother of All Change”.
Wallace, who introduced herself as a gay woman, told the conference: “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.”
But when Bayfield and Jenner expressed “valid” concerns over the safety of their jobs, bosses reacted “furiously” and took it as a challenge to their new diversity drive, then made a decision two days later to make them redundant.
Now the pair, who were behind some hugely successful TV adverts, have successfully sued Wunderman Thompson — which merged with JWT — for sex discrimination.
Bayfield, 54, said since his dismissal he has struggled to find work and Jenner has left advertising, adding that they have been perceived as “whistle-blowers” in the industry.
Bayfield, a married father, of Cricklewood, London, said: “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.”
Three other male creatives who were sacked settled out of court, Bayfield said.
A judge ruled that JWT bosses unfairly got rid of Bayfield and Jenner, 52 and 50 at the time, because it “immediately assisted the gender pay gap issue”.
The London Central tribunal heard both men are straight, white and British. Their work regularly received praise from colleagues and industry peers.
Bayfield was the creative force behind the famous Blackcurrant Tango “St George” advert, which won numerous industry awards.
In April 2018 a gender pay gap report revealed the company had a pay gap of 44.7 per cent.
Wallace, who had been brought in five months earlier, held a “hard-hitting” diversity presentation with the executive creative director Lucas Peon in May 2018.
It caused controversy when Wallace said JWT’s reputation for “white, British, privileged, straight men creating traditional, above-the-line advertising”, needed to be abolished.
Bayfield sent an email to a boss saying: “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 HR director, called a meeting with Bayfield and Jenner to discuss their concerns about job safety.
Though Bayfield and Jenner said they believe women and minorities should have a fair chance, they were angrily accused of challenging the diversity pledge.
Employment Judge Mark Emery said that they were treated in such a hostile manner it amounted to “victimisation”.
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.”
Within two days it had been decided that Bayfield and Jenner would lose their jobs to redundancies.
The judge said Peon had unfairly made his mind up before even carrying out an assessment of other senior creatives to see who would be axed. He claimed their performance was at fault, but the judge ruled the work never had caused concerns.
Judge 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 added.
Bayfield and Jenner are now in line to receive compensation from Wunderman Thompson after winning claims of sex discrimination, victimisation, harassment and unfair dismissal.
They lost claims of age discrimination, race discrimination and sexual orientation discrimination after the judge ruled they had no impact on their dismissal.
Bayfield and Jenner worked at the firm from January 2016 until their dismissal in November 2018.
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