Estée Lauder dismisses exec over racist Instagram post

The cosmetics maker said its former executive John Demsey's IG posts "do not reflect the values of The Estée Lauder Companies."

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An Estée Lauder executive who recently posted a meme on Instagram that included a racial slur and a joke about COVID-19 has been ordered to leave the company by the end of the week.

John Demsey served as executive group president of The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. prior to his pending dismissal, which the cosmetics maker confirmed on Monday both in a statement and in conversations with theGrio.

Estee Lauder 2018 Breast Cancer Campaign
John Demsey attends the Estée Lauder 2018 Breast Cancer Campaign at Bar SixtyFive on Oct. 01, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

“Today, John Demsey, Executive Group President, The Estée Lauder Companies, was informed he must leave the company, effective this week,” Estée Lauder said in a statement posted on its website.

“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.”

Demsey spent 31 years working for Estée Lauder prior to Monday, according to the company, which denied reports that he was fired.

“John was not fired, he was told he had to leave the company and is retiring this week,” a company spokesperson told theGrio in an emailed statement.

Last week, Demsey used his personal Instagram account to share a meme of a fake children’s book cover that featured Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Snuffleupagus, according to Estée Lauder.

(Screenshot of John Demsey Instagram)

The since-deleted photo showed Big Bird wearing a medical mask while his famed imaginary friend was seen lying in bed with a thermometer in his mouth and an ice pack on his head.

The title of the fictitious book read, “My n***a Snuffy done got the ‘rona at a Chingy concert”. The controversy made Chingy the #1 trending Twitter topic in the US Monday afternoon.

Estée Lauder suspended Demsey last Tuesday, in response, according to the Wall Street Journal. Demsey apologized for the off-color post on Friday.

“I am terribly sorry and deeply ashamed that I hurt so many people when I made the horrible mistake of carelessly reposting a racist meme without reading it beforehand,” he wrote in a statement shared on his Instagram page.

“The meme is the furthest thing from what I stand for and I should have never reposted it,” Demsey continued. “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.”

In it’s Monday statement, Estée Lauder also said diversity, equity and inclusion “are core” to its values and global priorities. The company has worked with a number of Black celebrities and influencers to sell its products, including rapper Nicki Minaj, poet Amanda Gorman and Sudanese-Australian model Adut Akech, who became Estée Lauder’s global brand ambassador last summer.

Representatives for all three women did not immediately respond to theGrio’s request for comment on Monday.

In June 2020, following George Floyd‘s murder and the racial reckoning that erupted in corporate America in its wake, Estée Lauder made a number of commitments to improve racial equity.

Those commitments included reaching “population parity” for Black employees at all levels of the company within the next five years.

“Over the past two years, we have worked together as an organization to advance our approach to racial equity and have taken a hard look at where we can and should do better,” Este Lauder said in its statement.

The company also said it is “making progress against our commitments to our employees, our partners, and consumers.”

“Our employees, and especially our senior leaders, are accountable to continue driving our progress and to respect the values of this company for the long term,” the company said.

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