Last month, Orlando attorney John Morgan axed roughly half of the marketing department at his massive personal injury law firm Morgan & Morgan.
Because the layoffs were so abrupt, and also one of the largest in recent years, current and former employees now refer to it as “The Snap,” a reference to the Marvel villain Thanos and his desire to restore balance to the universe by murdering half of all life with the snap of his fingers.
While many employees were told it was due to “restructuring,” the staffing purge followed months of external and internal grumbling over “Size Matters,” a national ad campaign that was intended to emphasize the enormous scale of the firm, but was also criticized as an inappropriate dick joke.
This is all according to emails, text messages and archived chats obtained by Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, as well as multiple interviews with current and former employees of Morgan & Morgan, many of whom requested to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution.
The company acknowledged the layoffs, but wouldn’t say exactly how many were fired. However, according to employees, at least 18 of the roughly 30-person staff at the company’s Brooklyn office were let go that day, including every employee who complained about “Size Matters.”
It’s unclear if the layoffs included staff who did not complain about the campaign, and the firm declined to describe exactly how many were laid off.
Employees describe the Morgan & Morgan Brooklyn office with words like “frat-like,” “dictatorship,” and “hostile,” a work environment with “great pay” but a high turnover rate, and low diversity.
Though John Morgan himself was barely in the office, save for the occasional Christmas party, ideas still trickled down from the top, employees say.
When it came down to the “Size Matters” campaign, staff told CL that those who thought it was inappropriate were told to no longer speak up or ask questions.
"It seemed like a lot of the employees who frequently pushed back against bad ideas were either fired or quit out of frustration," said Evan Allgood, who left the company before the layoffs, but most recently worked for Morgan & Morgan as a Senior Content Writer.
"They do a lot of reorganizations — I think I had eight different managers over my four and a half years there,” he added. “And they do fire people. But I can't remember ever seeing a round of mass layoffs like this in the marketing department. Only in the call center."
Coincidently, the “Size Matters” campaign was the largest ad project from the Morgan & Morgan marketing team, which is also overwhelmingly male-dominated. “Last I checked, the COO, Marketing Director, Web Director, Strategy Director, Comms Director, and Chief Creative Officer were all men,” said Allgood. “I worked with most of those guys, and I wouldn't describe them as particularly empathetic or receptive to criticism."
In an email to CL, Morgan & Morgan cited one employee as an example of a woman in a senior management position involved with marketing, though she works thousands of miles from the Brooklyn office.
“The most senior person for billboard creatives (and all out-of-home marketing), Tricia Barr, has been with the firm for more than twenty years; she is based in Orlando,” said the spokesperson, who would not agree to be mentioned by name.
It’s worth noting that according to Barr’s Linkedin profile, her duties appear to be more involved with the purchasing of actual billboards, and not the creative process involving the Brooklyn marketing staff.
While employees say they were specifically let go for being critical of “Size Matters,” Morgan & Morgan disputes these claims. The firm states that no one was fired because of any controversy surrounding the campaign, and added that no one was ever told not to speak up about it.
“There are always going to be ideas — some good, some bad; some viable, some not — shared back and forth in the creative process. No one was fired because of work on — or disagreement with — this campaign,” said the spokesperson in an email. “Dissent is welcomed and valued all the way to final print.”
It’s tough to pinpoint exactly when the idea for “Size Matters” was first born, though a video of one of John Morgan’s sons, Mike, shows the term being used in an ad as far back as 2017. But eventually the full-blown project was kickstarted last year, and was designed to be a pioneering effort by the company to plaster, for the first time, a single cohesive message across the country on billboards, bus ads, digital buys, television and radio spots, and more.
“This campaign was centered around the 'America’s Largest Injury Firm' concept; we have more than 700 attorneys and approximately 4,000 team members," said the Morgan & Morgan spokesperson. “We have within the firm experts in virtually every facet of plaintiff-side civil litigation. We believe our size is part of our strength and allows us to deliver the best results for our clients — recovering billions each year on their behalf.”
For the most part, the ad is almost always the same, and centers around the text “Size Matters” in giant block letters, followed by “America’s largest injury law firm,” a claim that one former employee said was only fact-checked by reading Wikipedia articles about other companies.
“Size Matters” went through many iterations before eventually coming to fruition, and according to documents and chats, the campaign was meant to be sexual and controversial from the beginning.
One email from Chief Creative Officer Carlos Wigle from Jan. 11 shows him suggesting the company use the phrase “John Morgan is my sugar daddy,” which is a term widely used for a financially beneficial relationship, usually in exchange for sexual favors. In another email from the same day, Wigle also suggested they add the word “drippin’” and another person followed that up by saying they should also add the hashtag “thicker.”
A couple of weeks earlier, these ideas were presented in a department-wide workshop on Dec. 30, where other suggestive phrases were photoshopped onto hypothetical billboards.
The workshop presentation, titled “2021 Creative Billboard Campaigns,” included ideas like “Bigger is Better” with a woman embracing a giant, phallic cone of ice cream, and fake client quotes like “I wanna have John Morgan’s baby,” “Sh*t was smooth like butter,” “Morgan got me drippin’,” and “If you don’t call, you dumb.”
CL could not find evidence that any of these ideas presented at the presentation actually made it to the public.
According to Morgan & Morgan, John and his wife Ultima sign off on all advertisements, including “Size Matters,” and in this case, the complaints soon followed.
An email from a woman on March 15 expressed concern to the company that the phrase was especially triggering because she’s a sexual assault victim.
“Let me share with you what I’m thinking & feeling each morning as it catches my eye: I am reliving all the past verbal and physicallsexual trauma I have experienced,” she wrote. “'Size Matters’ has nothing to do with the size of your law firm and if this is your attempt to be clever and cute using a 'sexual innuendo,' you have failed enormously! Please know that I intend to write you often until this distasteful and sexist billboard is removed from every location.”
Internal Slack messages show members of the marketing team were divided on the severity of the feedback. “Y'all let me know if this is inappropriate, but these high an mighty complaints about the Size Matters campaign are giving me LIFE,” said one employee in a Slack message.
This comment was later followed up by a female employee who pointed out that “this is definitely uncomfortable to read, especially as a woman.” The same female employee, who would be fired a week later, then asked if anyone saw the email from the woman who experienced sexual trauma, to which COO Reuven Moskowitz said no, and that he’s only seen complaints from “haters who want tort reform.”
While many employees joked about the complaints, many did not. “I’m sure there’s more than just one woman whose email we’ve seen out there, but I’m heartbroken that we’ve made even one woman feel this way. That’s not OK,” said one woman in the Slack thread. She was also later fired.
One employee pointed out that he had “[concerns] over the perception of employment law and sexual harassment claims,” and another said that “making fun of people who don’t like our quite clearly controversial campaign isn’t very For The People.” Both of these employees were also later fired.
But while employees continued to push back against “Size Matters,” Moskowitz continued to defend it internally, and referred to staff complaints as “giving into silly noise.”
“All these people just filthy minds,” said Moskowitz to the marketing staff. “But here's the real truth. Please read because some of the above chatter concerns me greatly. For every complaint we get from one of these whacks, we have 2500 people who are like, ‘yeah, it really does matter.’ We are optimizing for that. Don't get confused by a few silly reviews like many of you seem to be here. Oh by the way, 99.999 of those people who are complaining, would never hire us, either. Because we are just ambulance chasers. Would you all stop advertising if people started saying we are ambulance chasers. If yes, you should reevaluate a whole lot more. Would be a major mistake to react, like many of you seem to be here from just a handful of silly complaints, but if I told you 10,000 people just called us this Monday to hire us and only 4 complained, would that change your thought? And all you who are reacting in support of those 4, [in my honest opinion], giving into silly noise. Only love, Reuven.”
Jane Jorgenson, a professor at University of South Florida with an interest in organizational and gender issues in the workplace, says this type of response is “self defeating.”
“In terms of promoting a climate of work dignity and fostering an ethical, inclusive workplace these kinds of statements do the opposite,” said Jorgenson to CL. “Companies that are welcoming of diversity and open to employees' participation and voice have better public images.”
“If you look at the larger context, it is a law firm with national reach with a huge clientele,” added Jorgenson. “That's the thing that I keep coming back to — that you would think they would have to have a broad marketing strategy to be inclusive, which is what these women are trying to tell them.”
On April 21, a couple weeks after Moskowitz’s Slack message, half of the marketing department was gone in “The Snap.”
That same day John Morgan sent a company-wide email. There was no mention of the layoffs. In his note, Morgan informed everyone that since COVID vaccinations are now available, there would be no more remote work, and that everyone was to report back to the office on May 3.
“If you are determined to work from home,” he wrote, “it won’t be with our firm.”
“For over a year we have worked and clawed and survived,” continued Morgan. “America is open. My attractions set records over Easter and my hotels were packed.”
He then ended the email saying he will be visiting some of the offices soon and that they needed to pick a good bar for happy hour. “It’s time to get back to fighting and partying,” said Morgan, “for THE PEOPLE.”This article was first published by our sister paper Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.