Campaign India Team
Nov 16, 2018

More allegations fly between current and former partners at troubled Utopeia agency

Recently resigned Utopeia partner Mitali Srivastava Hough says Utopeia's formal statement "creating a narrative of partner rivalry" is a "deliberate distraction" to divert attention from sexual harassment claims against Sudarshan Banerjee.

L-R: Sudarshan Banerjee, Krishna Padhey and Krishnaraj Bhatt
L-R: Sudarshan Banerjee, Krishna Padhey and Krishnaraj Bhatt

This story was updated to include Mitali Srivastava Hough's response to Utopeia's statement at 11.15am on Monday 19 November, 2018. 

Utopeia, the agency that has for the last few weeks been embroiled in staff issues centering around allegations of sexual harassment against one of the agency's board of directors, Sudarshan Banerjee, has issued a new statement detailing what it says it "its side of the story for those who wish to listen."

The statement is signed by Banerjee, Krishnaraj Bhatt and Krishna Padhey, Utopeia's three remaining managing partners following the recent resignations of Mitali Srivastava Hough and Sean Colaco.

Srivastava released a statement this week following her resignation, stating that she had resigned "in protest at the dismissive attitude of the leadership towards the alleged survivors that came forward as part of #MeToo". Utopeia's latest statement in response confirms that Sean Colaco resigned "in solidarity with her". Neither resigned as directors of Utopeia and continue to be shareholders, according to the agency's statement.

The statement from Utopeia, which was released on 15 November, states that Banerjee and Srivastava were sent on leave by the enquiry committee when the investigation began. The duo were being investigated after allegations were made against them sexually harassing team members. Four posts appeared on social media between 8-10 October against Banjeree. One post appeared against Srivastava on 11 October on Medium.

Also sent on leave during the time was Paramita Banerjee, head HR, and wife of Sudarshan Banerjee. The reason for this according to the statement was to "save her from emotional distress".

The media statement from Utopeia mentions that the agency or the enquiry committee didn't receive any complaint against Banerjee till 31 October. On 27 October, Banerjee had issued a public statement denying the allegations against him. He had stated that he had initiated legal processes through the open letter.

The agency went ahead and reinstated Banerjee because the enquiry committee 'didnt have the means and expertise to carry out a police investigation and trace the source of the four posts that appeared on social media'. He resumed office on 12 November along with his wife and the agency's HR head Paramita Banerjee.

The statement further adds that the enquiry committee received a formal complaint of sexual harassment against Srivastava from an existing male employee. An external HR consultant was hired for this. The mail from the male employee was forwarded to Srivastava. The external HR wrote out a mail on 1 November to treat the matter as 'closed' because the complainant supposedly did not want to take further action. Colaco also insisted that the enquiry against Srivastava should be closed and the way foward was not discussed. Srivastava was also asked to resume duties.

When the trio were back, Srivastava and Colaco wanted Banerjee to step down from the position of chairman of the agency. Bhat and Padhye opposed this leading to a deadlock. The statement also mentions that the duo wanted the head of HR to resign too as they believed there was a 'conflict of interest'.

The statement further reveals that Padhye was 'disgusted by the attitute of Srivastava and Hough' and decided to resign as managing partner of the agency. A day later Srivastava resigned. On 13 November, Colaco also tendered his resignation.

Banerjee and Bhat accepted the resignations of Srivastava and Colaco while Padhye was asked to reconsider his decision. He did so and withdrew his resignation.

The statement also mentions that over the last year, there have been several HR complaints from the direct subordinates of Srivastava. There have also been performance related complaints against her. Claims of a client also terminating their association with the agency because of this have been made. As chairman, Banerjee has pulled up Srivastava on the performance and HR issues. 

Srivastava's response

Srivastava sent a response to Utopeia's statement to Campaign Asia-Pacific stating "there is proof of his serial predatory behaviour and in our last meeting, all managing partners agreed that [Banerjee] needs to step down from his role." She says she decided to resign when Banerjee rejected this proposal and feels the company is now creating a "distraction" by focusing on the supposed partner rivalry between her and Banerjee. 

"The attempt is yet again to shift the focus from 4 women who have made allegations against him [Banerjee] by colouring this whole tragic affair as some sort of conspiracy by me because I have been calling him out internally for years now and chose to take a strong stand against him recently when #MeToo posts emerged." 

Srivastava's response also states: 

"The public statement issued by Utopeia is the proof that validates my letter of resignation and public statement. My competence and character has only come under attack after my last confrontation in January this year after I forced my co-founder to apologize to the victim who officially complained about sexual harassment. There has been a systematic attempt to discredit me, humiliate me and malign my name."

Srivastava continues: "There is enough proof of his harassment towards me and also how his wife failed to conduct a proper investigation before giving him a clean chit. In light of this, I proposed that his wife must be asked to leave which was rejected by the partners. No amount of public statement and threats can take away the truth about him and about the complicit nature of his teams and partners who are working hard to protect and defend a predator. I would be pursuing legal recourse because the truth is on my side and I am not willing to give up this fight for justice."

See all our coverage of recent #MeToo allegations in adland



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