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Joe Alexander, the former chief creative officer at The Martin Agency who was dismissed in late 2017 amid an allegation of sexual harassment of an employee, has filed a $50.35 million lawsuit against the Richmond advertising company.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Richmond Circuit Court, also names as defendants The Martin Agency’s parent company, New York-based Interpublic Group of Cos., and Kristen Cavallo, The Martin Agency’s chief executive officer since December 2017.
The lawsuit also names two other defendants: Sissy Estes, a former Martin Agency employee, and Tara E. Hanley, whom the lawsuit identifies as a lawyer licensed in Texas who in 2011 represented a Martin Agency employee in a sexual harassment claim against the firm and Alexander.
The 78-page suit, filed by Charlottesville attorney Steven Biss, claims the allegations against Alexander were “concocted,” “completely false” and were used “as a pretext” to terminate his employment in December 2017.
The lawsuit claims the defendants “secretly leaked the terms of a confidential settlement agreement that Martin and Joe (Alexander) had entered into in 2013 to resolve a disputed accusation, and disclosed the contents of confidential human resources files to an anonymous #MeToo Instagram account called, ‘Diet Madison Avenue,’ knowing that DMA (Diet Madison Avenue) intended to republish the confidential information as part of a #MeToo crusade against white, male, chief creative officers at prominent advertising agencies.”
Diet Madison Avenue is an anonymous social media entity that named men accused of sexual harassment and related offenses on Instagram and Twitter.
In September, Alexander brought a separate, $25.35 million defamation lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Richmond against the advertising industry trade publication Adweek and its former senior editor, Patrick Coffee, as well as Diet Madison Avenue and the “collective” of 17 people behind it.
That lawsuit, also filed by Biss, alleges Adweek and Coffee published defamatory articles about Alexander in late 2017 and throughout 2018 and 2019.
In a statement, The Martin Agency’s parent company, Interpublic Group, said Alexander’s lawsuit “is without merit, not to mention contrary to Joe Alexander’s signed agreement with our company and written apologies.”
“We stand by our actions and will defend our position, and pursue all applicable counterclaims, vigorously,” the company said.
The lawsuit lists numerous accomplishments attributed to Alexander during his 26-year career with the company and five years as chief creative officer, including the growth of its Walmart account to “the largest in agency history with over $45 million in revenue.”
“Beginning in November 2017 and continuing thereafter, the defendants robbed Joe (Alexander) of his entire life’s work, destroyed his name and reputation, and permanently impaired his ability to find employment in the advertising industry,” the lawsuit says.
In a statement, Cavallo also defended the company’s actions.
“It’s never been about Joe or #metoo for us,” Cavallo said. “Karen [Costello, the firm’s chief creative officer,] and I are the leaders of ‘what came next.’ Our actions are a reflection of our values, not a reaction to the past. We can have transparency, wage equality, extended parental leave, a true commitment to a diverse workforce, while creating work our clients prosper from, people talk about and our employees are proud of. Our focus is on the future and the agency’s progress.”
Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder announced Thursday that a Virginia Commonwealth University appeals panel has cleared him of sexual misconduct allegations, but the university called Wilder’s claims “premature.”
In a news conference Thursday inside the VCU school that bears his name, Wilder said the appeals panel overruled the findings of an investigation conducted by an outside lawyer. That investigation determined that Wilder kissed a then-20-year-old VCU student against her will, but it cleared him of other allegations made by the student, including sexual exploitation, sex-based discrimination and retaliation.
The appeals panel, which met last week and held a hearing for more than six hours, rejected the findings of that investigation, Wilder said Thursday.
“I was not responsible for non-consensual sexual contact,” he said. “I am pleased that the panel members confirmed what I have stated from the very beginning of this investigation.”
Wilder’s conclusions about the panel’s findings were “premature,” a university spokesman said.
“VCU does not comment on or publicly disclose information about personnel matters that may be underway,” VCU spokesman Mike Porter said Thursday. “The matter addressed by Governor Wilder this morning is not complete; thus, his comments were premature.”
Porter said VCU policy requires a review panel’s findings and recommendations to be forwarded to a senior leader at the university “for further review.” That administrator then can “affirm or reject the review panel’s recommendation on responsibility,” Porter said.
Wilder’s news conference was held at VCU, but Porter said Wilder’s comments “are his own and do not represent an official statement of the university.”
Jason V. Wolfrey, lawyer for Sydney Black, the student who made the accusation, said Thursday that Black is standing behind her allegations.
The Washington Post reported in March that Black said Wilder kissed her in 2017 without her consent and offered to have Black live at his house. Wilder also offered to pay for her to attend law school, Black claimed.
Black worked as an office assistant at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU, according to The Post.
“She’s obviously disappointed, particularly after the external investigation found that he did have unwanted sexual contact with her,” Wolfrey said.
Wilder, 88, claimed in July that the Richmond Police Department found Black’s allegation “unfounded,” which Richmond police spokesman Gene Lepley confirmed Thursday.
“I have stated that the allegations were proven to be untrue and that the ‘truth will out,’ ” Wilder wrote on his website in July. “I do not accept responsibility for any non-consensual sexual contact and have filed a ‘contesting statement’ outlining the violations, bias and inherent flaws in the investigation.”
The university renewed Wilder’s contract earlier this year. He makes $150,000 as a part-time professor in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, according to a copy of his 2017-18 contract.
His new contract expires June 30, 2020.
Ousted for her role in a nepotism scandal, Richmond’s former top administrator walked out of City Hall last month entitled to a $25,000 payout.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney fired Chief Administrative Officer Selena Cuffee-Glenn in September after an internal inspector general investigation revealed five of her relatives got jobs in city departments she oversaw.
A Stoney spokesman said previously that Cuffee-Glenn would not receive a severance payout. However, under city policy she is due about $25,000 for vacation time she accrued during her four years on the job, Richmond’s Department of Human Resources confirmed this week in response to a Richmond Times-Dispatch inquiry.
The department also confirmed that three of Cuffee-Glenn’s relatives who were cited but not named in the report were no longer on the payroll.
The family members were not fired. Instead, their provisional employment with the city expired, a representative of the Department of Human Resources said.
The provisional classification allows city departments to make no-search hires quickly for positions they deem critical. Provisional employment lasts 90 days but can be extended for additional 90-day periods if the chief administrative officer or her designee approves, according to city guidelines.
Cuffee-Glenn’s daughter, Alexis K. Glenn, was hired to a provisional position in the city’s Department of Public Utilities in March. Her position paid $26.44 an hour, or about $55,000 annually. Glenn’s hourly rate was more than virtually every other city employee with the same job title, all of whom were more senior and experienced than her. She no longer works for the city, according to human resources.
Glenn’s provisional employment would have expired in June, but Cuffee-Glenn’s closest deputy, Lenora Reid, extended it, investigators found. The extension came before the Office of the Inspector General released its findings publicly.
Investigators also found that Reid had discussed a job in the Department of Finance, which she oversaw, with one of Cuffee-Glenn’s second cousins who was ultimately hired.
Reid also extended the employment of two other relatives whose identities The Times-Dispatch independently verified: Kim Hines, Cuffee-Glenn’s niece who was hired to a position in the Department of Public Works in January, making the equivalent of $70,000 annually; and Randy Lee, the spouse of one of Cuffee-Glenn’s second cousins who was hired by the Department of Public Utilities to a position making $26.44 an hour, or about $55,000. Neither is employed by the city anymore, according to human resources.
Stoney has since promoted Reid to interim chief administrative officer while his administration searches for a permanent replacement. The City Council unanimously approved Reid’s interim appointment in the wake of the report.
The two other relatives cited, but not named, in the report remain on the city payroll, according to human resources. Each went through a competitive hiring process after initially receiving provisional positions, according to the inspector general report.
Jim Nolan, a Stoney spokesman, declined to say whether the administration would retain the two remaining relatives, citing a city policy to not comment on personnel matters.
Other high-ranking city administrators helped facilitate the hires laid out in the report, investigators found. Among those were Department of Public Utilities Director Calvin Farr Jr., Department of Public Works Director Bobby Vincent Jr. and interim Human Resources Director Karen Garland.
Each remains with the city.
For an artist who explored such unsettling topics as alienation, despair and loneliness, Edward Hopper is surprisingly popular. He’s one of the most popular American painters of the 20th century.
“You say Edward Hopper and people light up,” said Alex Nyerges, director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
“Edward Hopper and the American Hotel” opens Saturday at the VMFA, bringing 60 of Hopper’s works to the museum.
Many of his most famous paintings will be on view, including “Western Motel,” painted in 1957, which shows a woman in a motel room with a red bed, a red chair and a view of the mountains.
For the first time, the museum will be offering overnight accommodations, letting guests stay in a room inspired by “Western Motel.”
Within a day of going on sale, most of the overnight packages sold out.
“We had to worry about things we’ve never had to worry about before. We want the bed to be comfortable. We don’t want the suitcases to get in the way,” said Leo Mazow, the curator of the exhibit.
The fidelity of the room itself is astounding. It looks exactly like the painting, so much so that when the viewer enters the gallery, the hotel room appears to be a painting itself at first.
With its red bedspread, gooseneck lamps and brown suitcases, the room is “Western Motel” come to life. The VMFA hired an artist to paint the mountain landscape outside the window and the nose of the old-fashioned green Buick.
“This is the fullest realization of the Western motel where Edward and his wife, Josephine, stayed in 1952 on one of their many travels,” Mazow said. “The Buick sedan is similar to what they owned.”
Forty-six nights were available for rent, with packages ranging from $150 to $500, all of which have sold out to a mix of locals and out-of-towners. Guests are coming from Virginia, Washington, D.C., and as far afield as Italy.
The room is outfitted with board games from the 1950s: Life, Yahtzee, Candy Land. Cabinets are stocked with ’50s-era snacks such as MoonPies, Tootsie Rolls and licorice. There are a few modern amenities, like chargers for cellphones tucked behind the bed and a mini-fridge. There is a bathroom down the hall, but sorry, no showers.
Mazow, formerly a professor of art at the University of Arkansas, came up with the idea for the hotel room when he was conceiving of the exhibit.
“Hopper’s work is about the dynamics of looking, except it’s usually us, as viewers of the work,” Mazow said. “It’s hard to think of an artist who doesn’t take into consideration viewers of the work. But I can’t think of anyone who anticipates the trajectory of our gaze the way Hopper does.”
With its focus on hotels, motels and guest houses, the exhibit deals with issues of travel, mobility and transience. Even the museum guide for the exhibit looks like a TripTik, the old-fashioned AAA travel guides that the Hoppers used on many of their travels.
It’s taking Hopper’s realism one step further and adding another layer, almost into the surreal.
“Hopper takes the most ordinary and banal events ... and reminds us that nothing can be more faithful to the human condition,” Mazow said. “He captures the journeys that we take and the places through which we pass.”
The American hotel began to flourish in the 1920s and ’30s, responding to an expanding middle class able to enjoy leisure. The Hoppers took many road trips to gain inspiration for his work.
“Hopper reminds us that there is value in the vernacular and culture in the most commonplace things,” Mazow said. “Is there alienation here? Is there voyeurism? Do you expect that with Edward Hopper? Absolutely. But Hopper also takes the less heroic and he monumentalizes it.”
That’s what people respond to, Mazow said, Hopper’s expressions of the struggles of the everyman: the isolation in the quiet, lonely moments; the despair without the scream.
In his private life, Hopper was quiet and taciturn with a limited social circle. He relied heavily on his wife, who was also a painter. But his legend “looms large” on the American psyche.
The hotel room is often the space for that alienating experience, showing just one or two people who don’t interact with each other.
Many of the paintings follow a formula with familiar markers: a brown suitcase, a seated figure, the side view of a bed with stark, white sheets.
In “Hotel Room,” painted in 1931, a woman in a pink slip sits on the side of a bed, her clothing on a chair, her cloche hat on top of the bureau.
The woman was modeled on Jo Hopper, who acted as a study for many of her husband’s paintings. Nearby, there’s a cover of a Hotel Management trade magazine illustrated by Hopper, with the same woman, fully clothed.
Postcards, photos and diary entries can be found throughout the exhibit, pushing the interpretive edge with a new look at how Hopper created his paintings.
The hotel room isn’t the only space brought to life. The second gallery re-creates “Hotel Lobby,” painted in 1943, complete with plush, gray chairs where visitors can sit and a thick, green stripe of carpet.
The check-in desk highlights Hopper’s unique relationship to Richmond.
The VMFA purchased the Hopper painting “House at Dusk” for $4,000 in 1953, which translates to roughly $37,000 today. Now, the painting is a museum favorite, normally on view in the American Art gallery.
Hopper served as a juror for the museum’s first biennial exhibition and was invited to stay at The Jefferson Hotel.
“House at Dusk” is on view in the exhibit, accompanied by a photo of The Jefferson that shows how Hopper was inspired by architecture in his work.
Windows are a repeating pattern in the exhibit: a frame within a frame with the subject placed in front of a window and the viewer peering in as if from a window.
“As viewers, Hopper invites us to step inside a hotel room, into these private, sacrosanct spaces,” Mazow said. Some of the women are dressed in slips or completely naked, rendering them even more vulnerable and exposed. “Windows are a powerful way to navigate the private/public continuum.”
“Nighthawks,” Hopper’s best-known painting, won’t be found at the VMFA exhibit. It shows people sitting in a diner and doesn’t fit the theme of hotels. Its owner, the Art Institute of Chicago, probably wouldn’t loan it out anyway, Nyerges joked during the media preview.
The VMFA is the only East Coast venue for “Edward Hopper and the American Hotel.” Afterward, it will travel to one location only, the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
The projected attendance for the Hopper exhibit is 80,000, similar to the Rodin exhibit in 2015 that drew 86,699 attendees.
The Picasso show, which took up the entire downstairs gallery in 2011, drew more than 200,000.
“An exhibition like this has never been done before,” Nyerges said. “It transcends the surreal and makes it the most important and unique exhibit of Hopper anywhere.”