WPP settles Carmel Williamson court case, says it has a ‘deep commitment to diversity’ following ‘boys club’ allegations

WPP has settled the court case brought against it by former executive Carmel Williamson, who alleged that a “boys club” culture and lack of support led to her being fired.

The settlement was reported in multiple outlets last month when it had ‘settled in principle’, meaning the deed was not finalised. The case was officially finalised this week, when Williamson filed a notice of discontinuance. In a comment provided to Mumbrella, WPP confirmed the case has been “amicably resolved” and it took the allegations seriously given its “deep commitment to diversity”.

Williamson was with Team Red for just six months before being dismissed

“WPP AUNZ can confirm that issues raised by former executive, Ms Carmel Williamson, have been amicably resolved by both parties. On that basis, further legal action will not be proceeding,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

“WPP AUNZ took Ms Williamson’s allegations seriously given its deep commitment to diversity at board, executive and employee level.”

Williamson was seeking more than $400,000 in damages according to legal documents filed in the Federal Court in March. After just six months as managing director of Team Red, the bespoke agency set up for WPP client Vodafone, Williamson was dismissed.

Her time at the WPP agency, and consequent dismissal, left her humiliated, distressed, experiencing anxiety, and suffering from rashes on her neck and chest, loss of appetite, weight loss, sleeplessness and joint stiffness, according to court documents. Following her dismissal, Williamson began seeing a psychologist.

The executive was tasked with launching Team Red, which aimed to transfer all WPP work on the Vodafone account to one agency. But Williamson claimed other agencies, such as Wunderman Thompson (then JW Thompson), did not support the structural change, and resisted it.

WPP contested the case, acknowledging that while “disagreements developed” and there was a “lack of cooperation and coordination afforded to Team Red by other agencies”, then-boss, Mike Connaghan, attempted to resolve those issues by directing the agencies to cooperate with Team Red within a period of three months. Its defence stated that “[Williamson’s] outlook, which is that [WPP] ought to have disciplined or dismissed any executive who disagreed with, or displeased, her is unreasonable and unrealistic”.

Williamson alleged that her age and gender led her to be treated differently than other managing directors, which WPP denied. She wasn’t dismissed because she exercised a workplace right, the holding group countered, but because “she lost the confidence of the principal client of the agency she was appointed to manage”.

In addition to damages, Williamson wanted declarations that WPP breached the Fair Work Act, a fine to be handed down to the holding group, and her legal costs and interest paid.

The settlement follows a leadership switch up, with Jens Monsees beginning in the AUNZ CEO role in October. John Steedman was interim CEO when the case began, acting in a caretaker role until the company found a replacement for Connaghan, who departed WPP in October last year.

WPP media agency Mediacom continues to defend another general protections claim brought against it by former general manager Rob Moore, who claims he was made redundant because he disclosed a diagnosis of depression.

Upon settlement, the holding group thanked Williamson for her time at Team Red and said she was grateful for the chance to work for the company.

“WPP AUNZ thanks Ms Williamson for her service in connection with establishing the Team Red business in Australia as managing director. Ms Williamson is grateful to WPP AUNZ for the opportunity to be part of its diverse and talented leadership group,” the spokesperson said.

“Both WPP AUNZ and Ms Williamson are now focussed on moving forward with their respective business interests. The parties will be making no further comment.”


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