John Demsey, a senior executive at the makeup manufacturer Estee Lauder, was ousted by the company on Monday after he posted a racist meme on Instagram.
Originally suspended without pay, Demsey was then forced out. Executive Chairman William Lauder and CEO Fabrizio Freda shared a letter with all employees explaining what happened.
“This decision is the result of his recent Instagram posts, which do not reflect the values of The Estée Lauder Companies, have caused widespread offense, are damaging to our efforts to drive inclusivity both inside and outside our walls, and do not reflect the judgment we expect of our leaders,” the letter read. “Inclusion, diversity and equity are core to our company’s values and priorities globally.”
According to The Daily Beast, which captured the racist meme before John Demsey deleted it from his Instagram page, the post mocked Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Snuffy’s Covid discussion. The meme also included text that used the N-word.
“How’s it OK for a beauty executive (responsible for the branding and direction of a company that claims to focus on diversity and inclusion) to post this?” one Instagram commenter wrote. “Time for #EsteeLauder to part ways with dinosaurs like him who don’t reflect their values.”
Demsey, who worked at Estee Lauder for over 31 years, oversaw makeup brands such as MAC and Clinique, rising from his position at MAC Cosmetics in 1998 to group president for Estee Lauder. He graduated from Stanford University and New York University’s Stern School of Business and was known to frequent the New York City party scene alongside high-profile celebrity guests.
According to the New York Post, he made $9.6 million last year. He also has over 73,900 followers who could have seen the post.
In an apology later posted on his Instagram page, John Demsey stated that he was “terribly sorry and deeply ashamed.”
“I made the horrible mistake of carelessly reporting a racist meme without reading it beforehand,” Demsey wrote, apologizing that he “hurt so many people.”
According to a spokesman from Estee Lauder, John Demsey was not “fired,” but simply retired “under pressure from the company.”
“Not only did I hurt many people whom I respect,” the Instagram apology continued, “the terrible mistake I made has undermined everything I have been working for since I began my career 31 years ago.”
“The meme is the furthest thing from what I stand for,” Demsey stated, “and I should have never reposted it. I hope that in time people will judge me, not for this awful mistake, but for my lifetime of words and actions, which demonstrate my respect for all people.”
Demsey worked with many AIDS-related charities in the ’90s. So, John Demsey’s Instagram post shocked fans of the beauty brand, who thought of him as a generous and forward-thinking Estee Lauder executive.
“It becomes increasingly challenging to remain connected with the upcoming generation,” he once told CBS News.
According to Essence, despite companies like Estee Lauder pushing for more diversity and inclusion, many beauty companies only hire two to three percent people of color.
CNBC reported that shares for the makeup company also dropped around 1.8% late Monday morning.