Politics

Disgraced Multimillionaire Remains on Bloomberg Foundation Board Despite Harassment Claims

Working for Martin Sorrell 'like being in an abusive relationship'

Martin Sorrell attends Bloomberg Businessweek's 85th anniversary celebration / Getty Images

An advertising mogul who was removed from the helm of his own business after employees said he subjected women to "brutal and inhuman" treatment remains on the board of Michael Bloomberg's personal charity organization.

Martin Sorrell, a member of the Bloomberg Family Foundation's board of directors, in 2018 was forced to resign from his position as chief executive of communications giant WPP, which he founded in 1985. The resignation came after Sorrell's female assistants accused the multimillionaire of fostering a "toxic environment" with "routine verbal abuse." One anonymous staffer compared working for Sorrell to "being in an abusive relationship." Sorrell was also investigated for using company funds to pay a prostitute and was forced to pay back nearly $220,000 of WPP money he used for personal matters.

Despite the allegations against Sorrell and his subsequent resignation, the businessman remains on the Bloomberg Family Foundation's board, which he joined as an inaugural member in 2010. Bloomberg has faced his own allegations of workplace harassment. Multiple female employees have accused the former New York City mayor of making crude sexual comments such as "I'd like to do that piece of meat" and "I would do you in a second."

Fellow Democratic candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) attacked Bloomberg over the sexism allegations during Wednesday's debate in Las Vegas, urging the billionaire to release the women behind the accusations from nondisclosure agreements. Bloomberg refused to do so and defended his record with women by pointing to the female leadership at his philanthropic foundation. He said inappropriate conduct toward women would be a fireable offense.

"Anybody that does anything wrong in our company, we investigate it, and if it's inappropriate, they're gone that day," Bloomberg said. "But let me tell you what I do at my company and my foundation and in city government when I was there. In my foundation, a person that runs it [is] a woman. Seventy percent of the people there are women."

Bloomberg senior adviser Tim O'Brien addressed the billionaire's alleged misconduct by touting the foundation's female management during a television appearance Wednesday ahead of the debate.

"One of Mike's key advisers for a very long time is Patti Harris," O'Brien said on MSNBC. "She was his deputy mayor when he was mayor of New York. She ran Bloomberg Philanthropies, which has been run by women, and she's the chairwoman of our campaign."

Like Bloomberg, details of the allegations against Sorrell have not been discussed publicly due to a confidentiality agreement. The Financial Times discussed the accusations with "more than 25 individuals who have worked closely with the former WPP boss." No accusers spoke on record.

Neither the Bloomberg campaign nor Sorrell responded to requests for comment.

Bloomberg and Sorrell's relationship dates back to at least November 2001, when WPP purchased Democratic consulting firm Penn, Schoen, & Berland Associates. Bloomberg hired the firm to conduct polling for his 2001 New York mayoral campaign and employed it again in 2005 following Sorrell's purchase.

In February 2009, Bloomberg launched Media.NYC.2020, a city government initiative that brought together top media executives to discuss "how New York's media ecosystem is likely to develop and be transformed in years ahead." Bloomberg made Sorrell one of the initiative's four project chairs, and Sorrell joined the Bloomberg Family Foundation board just months later.

Sorrell appeared on Bloomberg TV following his departure from WPP. Host Francine Lacqua told him she found his exit "surprising." She did not mention the allegations that led to his resignation, and Sorrell touted his latest venture, media company S4 Capital.

"Any regrets?" Lacqua asked.

"No," Sorrell said. "Obviously I'm sad about what happened at WPP, but I think we've made big strides with S4 Capital, and we're focused on a new-era, new-age model."

Though Sorrell was not rebuked by the Bloomberg Family Foundation following the accusations, his alleged misconduct did undermine his influence with fellow business leaders. Sorrell reportedly did not receive an invitation to the British business leaders' lunch at the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, an event he was asked to speak at in 2018.

As a member of the Bloomberg Family Foundation's board of directors, Sorrell helps manage nearly $9 billion in assets. Other prominent board members include Disney CEO Bob Iger and former Treasury secretary Hank Paulson.