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Publicis boss Maurice Levy denies inherent industry sexism, saying JWT scandal is simply “one man’s mistake”

The boss of Publicis Groupe Maurice Levy has broken his silence on the shocking allegations of racism and sexism made against the former chief executive at ad giant JWT – a WPP agency – saying that it was “one man’s mistake” and not “exemplary of what’s happening in our industry.”

It comes as J. Walter Thompson tries to deal with the fallout from a lawsuit filed earlier this month by its communications chief Erin Johnson against then-chief executive Gustavo Martinez.

Johnson claims that Martinez repeatedly joked about rape and made a number of racist and anti-Semitic comments. She also alleges that despite a number of complaints to senior members of staff at both the agency and WPP, she was ignored and side-lined when it came to important meetings whilst also having her bonus cut.

Martinez – who resigned last week - denies the allegations, calling them “outlandish”.

Speaking at the 4A’s Transformation Conference in Miami today (22 March), Levy said of the ongoing controversy surrounding JWT: “Honestly, this is one man’s fault and something we should not be forgiving.”

He later, seemingly joking, suggested that perhaps Martinez felt able to make such comments because of presidential candidate Donald Trump.

He quipped: “It’s terrible that in today’s world [Martinez] could say what he’s said. Maybe […] he learned from Trump and listening to Trump thought he could behave badly.”

However, his suggestion that sexism is not a wider issue in the industry was met with a stern response. Since the JWT scandal emerged, a number of other women in the industry have spoken – anonymously – about similar experiences at different agencies.

Cindy Gallop, the founder of Publicis-owned BBH New York and vocal advocate of gender equality, said via a number of tweets in wake of Levy’s comments that: “White men at the top should never presume to speak for the women/POC in any industry.”

Levy also took the opportunity to laud his own company’s efforts to support women, including its first female chief executive in 1938 and its backing of an organisation called Viva Woman.

“We never forget they are 50 per cent of the population and decide on 75 per cent of everything sold on earth,” he said.