Speaking out against school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic was a decision that Jennifer Sey says came at the expense of her senior executive job at Levi Strauss, according to a Thursday morning interview on ‘Squawk Box” from CNBC.
Sey told co-presenter Andrew Ross Sorkin she was ‘absolutely kicked out’ of the San Francisco-based clothing giant after she refused to stop speaking out on her view that school closings were ultimately detrimental to the students. She said she quit on Sunday and refused a million dollar severance package because it would have required her to sign a nondisclosure agreement about why she left the company.
“It was made clear to me that there was no room for me given the controversial nature of what I had said over the past two years about children and school,” Sey said. .
The company pointed out in a statement to CNBC that Sey was not expelled, but chose to resign, and that the specific nature of Sey’s public comments contradicted health and safety guidelines.
“Levi Strauss & Co. is proud to be a values-driven company with a heritage of championing causes that matter to our employees and our communities. We empower our employees to do the same. Jen’s statements about Covid-19 public health measures undermined the guidelines we followed to ensure the health and safety of our employees and consumers. All of our leaders – and especially members of senior management – have a responsibility to put our values and health and safety at the forefront of their actions. especially true during the global pandemic. Jen has decided to leave the company and has resigned,” according to an email from the company media team.
Sey said during the CNBC interview, “I made the decision to leave on my own, on my own, and on my own terms so I could speak freely. I think the issues at stake here are not just children, but freedom of speech more broadly and accepting a silence package would defeat that. And I didn’t want to accept this package.
Sey joined Levi Strauss in 1999 as assistant director of marketing and worked her way up the corporate ladder. She was named president of the Levi’s brand in 2020. Throughout her career, she says, she has been a strong advocate for children and minorities. Sey said Levi Strauss and her leadership team had no problem when she shared her support for Elizabeth Warren during the Democratic primary and when she expressed sadness over the racially motivated killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd.
That support ended, she claims, when she spoke out on public school closures in San Francisco in the wake of the pandemic. In one online essay published Monday, Sey wrote that in the summer of 2020, Levi Strauss’ head of corporate communications warned her to tone down her remarks, saying that when she spoke, she was speaking on behalf of the company. She replied, “My title is not in my Twitter bio. I speak as a public school mother of four children. »
Sey says she was continually contacted by executives along with Levi Strauss as well as a board member, urging her to rethink her statements.
Schools across the country have been closed periodically during the pandemic to reduce infection rates. In her essay, Sey wrote that school closures “would fall most heavily on underprivileged children in public schools, who need the safety and routine of school the most.” She wrote that she moved her family to Denver from San Francisco last year so her children could attend school in person.
In her essay, Sey also claimed that at a dinner party in the fall of 2021, Levi Strauss CEO Chris Bergh told her that she was on track to become the next CEO, but that her comments outspoken about public school closures were embarrassing. “All I had to do was stop talking about school,” Sey wrote.
“It shouldn’t be a condition of employment to align yourself 100% with the views of your employer,” she said during the “Squawk Box” interview. “And it shouldn’t be a violation of human rights to stand up for children. »
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Former Levi executive Jennifer Sey on quitting over Covid ‘free speech’ – Reuters