coronavirus

Ad Agency Sued After Firing Employee who Refused Project Minimizing COVID-19 Risk

The plaintiff alleges that she was wrongfully fired after refusing to partake in a misleading ad campaign for Princess Cruise Lines.

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A woman is suing a Culver City ad agency, alleging she was wrongfully fired in May for expressing concerns about the honesty of a Princess Cruises assignment that she believed minimized the health threat from the Coronavirus.

Tiffani Harcrow's Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit against Omelet LLC alleges retaliation, wrongful termination, intentional infliction of emotional distress and unfair business practices. She seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

"This is a classic and especially egregious case of whistleblower retaliation, which took place as the world faced an unprecedented and deadly global health pandemic," the suit states.

An Omelet representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the suit filed Monday. Princess Cruises is not a defendant in the case.

The 33-year-old Harcrow, hired in May 2018 as Omelet's associate creative director, received "glowing evaluations" for her work, the suit states.

"Harcrow was consistently described by Omelet's management as an all-star and praised as one of Omelet's top creative professionals," the suit states.

But in April, Omelet demanded that Harcrow and her team develop a "materially false, misleading, and dangerous marketing campaign for...Princess Cruise Lines," a company client, the suit states.

Omelet wanted an aggressive marketing campaign "designed to mislead consumers" into believing that it would be safe to travel on a Princess cruise ship on June 30, despite evidence to the contrary, according to the suit.

An Omelet briefing dated April 22 and shared with Harcrow spelled out Princess' own alleged objective of misleading customers into believing that its cruise lines were safe, the suit states. However, by then Harcrow and other Omelet employees and managers knew that Congress and government agencies were investigating the alleged failure of cruise lines to protect the health of passengers and staff, the suit states.

"Clearly, Omelet's misleading campaign violated its own professed core value" to always tell the truth, the suit states.

On March 14, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued a no-sail order suspending the operations of cruise lines and other carriers for 30 days, and the next month the directive was renewed until July 24, the suit states.

Harcrow objected to and complained about the Princess Cruises assignment to supervisors and asked whether safety protocols were in place, the suit states. She also stated that telling the public that it was permitted, let alone safe, to travel on a cruise line on June 30 violated the CDC's orders, according to the suit. "As a result, Harcrow told her supervisors that she reasonably believed that the campaign was misleading, fraudulent, unethical… and would endanger the health, safety, and lives of consumers," the suit states.

In response, Harcrow's supervisor said, "I would not put my family on a cruise ship either, for fear of catching COVID-19, but it was our duty to our client to instruct the public to do so," the suit states.

In a subsequent email, Harcrow and another Omelet employee stated to management, "From the health and safety precautions provided by Princess, we don't feel comfortable telling the public that it's safe to get on a cruise ship on June 30," the suit states.

Harcrow and her colleague then refused the Princess Cruises assignment, the suit states.

The next day, Harcrow was derided by two Omelet managers for objecting to the Princess Cruises campaign and one of them said, "If you refuse this Princess brief, you will not be resourced on any more projects at Omelet," the suit states.
Harcrow, who was not assigned any other active projects and never given an explanation, was fired May 6, the suit states. All of Harcrow's responsibilities were transferred to employees who did not object to Omelet's "dangerous, misleading and unlawful marketing campaigns," the suit states.

The company never investigated Harcrow's retaliation claims as required by Omelet's own policies, the suit states. Since being fired Harcrow has suffered emotional distress, embarrassment and a loss of self-esteem, the suit states.

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