TBWA Sydney embroiled in legal battle with former employee over bullying and harassment claims

TBWA Sydney is tied up in a legal battle after a former planning director filed documents in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia claiming she was fired for lodging bullying and harassment claims against the ad agency’s Sydney managing director.

TBWA strongly denies the claims, and instead alleges former planning director Annabel Rogers was let go due to serious misconduct.

The former planning director claims to have been fired for exercising her right to report managing director Nitsa Lotus for bullying and harassment.

Rogers alleges Lotus made unfavourable comments about her which “were designed to show that Lotus did not like Rogers”.

In the court documents, Rogers claims TBWA Sydney fired her for exercising her right to report Lotus’ alleged behaviour in the workplace.

In its defence documents, TBWA instead argues Rogers was dismissed July last year for serious misconduct.

Rogers says she initially tendered her resignation in May 2016 as a result of Lotus’ alleged bullying and harassment, and informed TBWA AUNZ CEO Paul Bradbury of the agency’s alleged reluctance to address the bullying and harassment complaint against Lotus.

The planning director then withdrew her resignation less than a month later, after mediation and an apology from Lotus, according to her statement.

According to the court documents filed by Rogers, Lotus allegedly said at the time: “I have a problem with strong women and for me to grow as a leader I need to work on that. I am sorry you felt the way you did and I want to continue to lead this business and I will work on it.”

After Rogers withdrew her resignation, TBWA awarded the senior planner a $40,000 pay rise that increased her salary to $190,000, the ad agency says.

TBWA claims the pay rise was to counter-offer another job she had been given at Saatchi & Saatchi.

The dispute flared up again in July the following year, when Rogers allegedly discovered a handover document prepared by Lotus for incoming chief strategy officer Matt Springate, which allegedly described Rogers as “easily distracted and difficult to get her engaged in meetings”.

Following Rogers’ discovery of the document, the situation escalated to involve TBWA’s CEO Bradbury who, Rogers alleged, warned her in a meeting on 19 July 2017 that taking action against Lotus would be “bad for your reputation” and “bad for her”.

In her statement of claim, Rogers further alleged that during the meeting Bradbury asked her: “What number would she need to stop this issue going to court?”

TBWA denies the allegation in its filed defence.

During the meeting, Rogers claims Bradbury asked her to apologise to Springate for allegedly copying the confidential handover document.

TBWA claims the document, which “contained sensitive information about members of the planning team”, was obtained from Springate’s office on a Saturday. TBWA alleges Rogers claimed to have found the document on a printer.

The following day, TBWA’s head of people and culture, Cassie Sellars, allegedly advised Rogers she was launching an investigation into the ongoing bullying complaints against Lotus. Rogers also claims that on July 26 she was advised that an independent investigator had been appointed to formally examine her complaints.

Rogers was dismissed later that day.

In its defence, the Omnicom-owned agency accused the former employee of sneaking into an office to find and take photos of the only copy of the “confidential” handover document.

According to the creative agency, Rogers then shared parts of the document with other agency employees telling them she found the handover on a printer, TBWA alleged.

TBWA Sydney – whose clients include Amazon, Macquarie University, PepsiCo, Gatorade and M.J.Bale – argued Rogers’ employment was terminated for matters of misconduct relating to obtaining, sharing and taking photos of a confidential handover document shared between Lotus and chief strategy officer, Springate.

In TBWA’s defence, the firm argued Rogers “located” and “took photos” of the one copy of the “confidential” handover document, which contained “sensitive information about members of the planning team” including their salary, employment history, key skills, strengths and areas of growth, which was was printed and put on Springate’s desk.

TBWA claims the decision to terminate Rogers’ employment was made on July 22 “as a result of the very serious matters regarding [Rogers’] conduct”.

Rogers declined Mumbrella’s request for comment.

TBWA’s CEO, Paul Bradbury, added: “As this matter is before the courts we won’t be commenting, only to say we will be defending our position vigorously.”


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