A former Esquire exec is suing Hearst, alleging age and gender discrimination

  • A former Esquire ad executive has sued parent company Hearst, alleging sex and age discrimination.
  • Lauren Johnson, 52, alleges in a lawsuit that her former boss Jack Essig "regularly mocked" older employees and female workers while she worked there from 2016 to 2018.
  • A Hearst Magazines spokesperson said it investigated the allegations and believes the suit has no merit.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

A former Hearst ad exec has filed suit against the company, alleging she was discriminated against on the basis of sex and age and retaliated against after she complained.

In the suit, filed September 23 in New York State Supreme Court, Lauren Johnson, 52, alleged that while working as integrated ad director at Hearst's Esquire magazine, her boss Jack Essig "regularly mocked" older employees and female workers. (The filing is embedded in full at the bottom of this story.)

Hearst Magazines issued a statement saying: "Discrimination of any kind is inexcusable, antithetical to our company's values and will not be tolerated at Hearst. We conducted a thorough investigation into these allegations and believe this lawsuit has no merit."

Essig and executives named in the suit have not replied to requests for comment.

Johnson was a longtime Hearst employee and had returned to the company in 2016 after a stint as ad director at Condé Nast's New Yorker, the suit says. She left Hearst on her own in January, the suit adds.

She said that Essig — who oversaw Esquire as SVP, publishing director, and CRO of Hearst Men's Group — repeatedly made "biased and inappropriate comments" to Johnson about women and older Hearst employees. Essig is in his mid- to late 40s, the suit says.

The suit mentions four examples of such behavior, including allegations that Essig said a man who worked at Hearst at the time and was then in his late 50s or early 60s looked "tired" and that he was "old" and should "hang it up."

In another example, the suit alleged that Essig said of a female Hearst employee in her late 60s that you cannot "teach an old dog new tricks" and mocked her for trying to look younger by wearing a "faux ponytail" and said she should be "mortified," implying that someone "her age" should know better.

The suit also alleged that Essig treated Johnson and other female employees over 40 years old worse than their younger male peers, humiliating her in front of her coworkers multiple times and speaking to her more dismissively than her male colleagues.

For example, the suit says, during a meeting in 2018, Essig described Johnson's team as "really f—ing lazy" in front of Johnson's younger male colleague.

She also said in the suit he made it difficult for her to do her job by excluding her from meetings where information that was relevant to her job was discussed, among other things.

After she took another job at the company, the suit alleges, Essig was "physically aggressive" toward her at two holiday parties in 2018, cornering her and making it hard for her to interact with other guests.

Johnson alleges she complained about her boss to Hearst higher-ups

Johnson also alleged in the suit that Hearst committed retribution and failed to properly handle her complaints. She said she raised concerns about Essig in 2017-18 to Jeff Hamill, EVP and chief media officer for Hearst Magazines.

The same month in 2018, her complaint alleges, the company offered her a lesser job at lower pay, at its Hearst Health division, in retribution for her complaints about Essig.

Johnson alleges that she went to Todd Haskell, SVP and CMO for Hearst Magazines, to raise concerns about the new position and he told her "if you don't take this, you can't stay."

She also alleged that she spoke with HR VP Janine Miceli about the demotion but Miceli discouraged her from putting her complaint in writing to avoid hurting someone at the company.

Johnson said in the suit that she took the new role rather than lose her job.

She said that in 2019 she went ahead and filed a written complaint about Essig anyway and Troy Young, the Hearst Magazines president who stepped down in July after The New York Times published an article reporting he made lewd, sexist remarks at work, said he would handle the complaint.

According to the suit, the company conducted only a "cursory investigation" and concluded that Essig hadn't committed discrimination.

Age discrimination has been a subject of discussion in the advertising industry lately.

Earlier this month, Mark Read, CEO of the world's largest holding company, WPP, apologized publicly after telling investors that the average age of his company's 100,000-plus employees is less than 30 and that "they don't hark back to the '80s, luckily."

Read said he was trying to counter the idea that WPP employs people whose skills focus on traditional TV at the expense of the digital campaigns that now account for a majority of global ad spend. His comments inspired a series of news reports and op-eds.

Read the full filing below.

Lauren Johnson v Hearst Com… by Patrick Coffee

Yoonji Han contributed to this report.

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