Last updated on February 17, 2022
Jennifer Sey, former brand president for the U.S. clothing company Levi’s, quit her c-suite position and turned down a $1 million payout so she could continue to speak out against certain COVID-19 restrictions.
Sey, a former Olympic gymnast, announced her resignation on Monday in journalist Bari Weiss’ Substack newsletter “Common Sense.” Sey said she was pushed out of her job by the company she had championed over her 23-year career because she refused to stop speaking out against school closures and other COVID-19 policies.
“Early on in the pandemic, I publicly questioned whether schools had to be shut down. This didn’t seem at all controversial to me. I felt—and still do—that the draconian policies would cause the most harm to those least at risk, and the burden would fall heaviest on disadvantaged kids in public schools, who need the safety and routine of school the most,” Sey wrote.
Her advocacy earned her accusations of being a “racist—a strange accusation given that I have two black sons—a eugenicist, and a QAnon conspiracy theorist,” she wrote. According to Sey, her outspoken activism, which could be found in columns, television appearances, and on her social media feeds, eventually earned her rebukes from her bosses, as well as Levi’s human resources and legal departments.
Sey said her treatment revealed what appeared to be a double-standard at the clothing company. “Meantime, colleagues posted nonstop about the need to oust Trump in the November election. I also shared my support for Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic primary and my great sadness about the racially instigated murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. No one at the company objected to any of that,” she wrote.
Sey said she continued to fight COVID-19 lockdown policies and eventually moved her family out of California to Denver so that her kindergartener could attend school in-person. The move allegedly precipitated her downfall in the company. She wrote:
National media picked up on our story, and I was asked to go on Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox News. That appearance was the last straw. The comments from Levi’s employees picked up—about me being anti-science; about me being anti-fat (I’d retweeted a study showing a correlation between obesity and poor health outcomes); about me being anti-trans (I’d tweeted that we shouldn’t ditch Mother’s Day for Birthing People’s Day because it left out adoptive and step moms); and about me being racist, because San Francisco’s public school system was filled with black and brown kids, and, apparently, I didn’t care if they died. They also castigated me for my husband’s Covid views—as if I, as his wife, were responsible for the things he said on social media.
All this drama took place at our regular town halls—a companywide meeting I had looked forward to but now dreaded.
In a meeting with CEO Charles Bergh in the fall of 2021, Sey said that Bergh told her she was on track to become CEO of the clothing company. “The only thing standing in my way, he said, was me. All I had to do was stop talking about the school thing.”
Sey refused, opting to continue her activism. In a meeting earlier this year, Bergh spoke with her again and allegedly said that her presence at the company had grown “untenable.”
“I was offered a $1 million severance package, but I knew I’d have to sign a nondisclosure agreement about why I’d been pushed out. The money would be very nice. But I just can’t do it. Sorry, Levi’s,” Sey wrote.
“In my more than two decades at the company, I took my role as manager most seriously. I helped mentor and guide promising young employees who went on to become executives. In the end, no one stood with me. Not one person publicly said they agreed with me, or even that they didn’t agree with me, but supported my right to say what I believe anyway,” she concluded. “I like to think that many of my now-former colleagues know that this is wrong. I like to think that they stayed silent because they feared losing their standing at work or incurring the wrath of the mob. I hope, in time, they’ll acknowledge as much.”
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