A longtime Levi Strauss & Co. executive says the apparel company has forced her out over her outspokenness against closing schools due to COVID-19, and that she gave up a $1 million severance package in order to continue espousing her views.
Jennifer Sey, Levi's brand president, wrote a post in Bari Weiss' "Common Sense" Substack on Monday saying that Levi Strauss & Co. CEO Charles Bergh had informed her in recent weeks that it was "untenable" for her to remain at the firm where she had worked for more than two decades, and that she turned down the severance because she did not want to "have to sign a nondisclosure agreement about why I'd been pushed out."
Sey, a mother of four, explained in the post that she had long been an advocate for children and that Levi's had always supported her in the past when she expressed other political views, but that all changed after Sey refused to stop speaking out against California shutting down public schools in the name of safety due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"I've been a Democrat my entire voting life," Sey told FOX Business in an interview following her post. "I feel the party has abandoned their principles and I find myself quite politically homeless."
"Free speech and kids are not ‘right wing’ issues and it should not be considered beyond the pale to stand up for these things or even be ‘right wing’ for that matter," she continued, adding, "It certainly shouldn't make one unemployable."
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Sey and her family moved from San Francisco to Colorado in order to return her children to in-class learning, and she continued to speak out against the closures in the media. She says her appearance on Fox News' "The Ingraham Angle" to discuss her views "was the last straw" for Levi's.
After that, Sey says, she was accused of being racist despite being a longtime supporter of racial equity and the mother of two Black children. Levi's head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion asked her to go on an "apology tour," but she refused.
Sey wrote that last fall, Bergh told her that she "was on track to become the next CEO of Levi's" and that "the only thing standing in my way, he said, was me. All I had to do was stop talking about the school thing."
"It's wrong to stifle speech and dissent," Sey told FOX Business. "This isn't a Levi's issue, it's a broader cultural issue. We seem to have lost the ability to converse, to disagree, to debate and still respect each other."
When asked how she believes Levi's should have handled the situation, Sey said, "I think it was possible to support my speaking out without necessarily sharing all of my views. And in doing so, create a culture that is truly inclusive, and where everyone feels they can use their voice and contribute without holding pieces of themselves back."
The Levi's veteran says she has heard from people both inside and outside of Levi's in reaction to her post, including "those who have left and those in other companies who feel afraid to speak up about issues they care about" who "feel there is one right answer and that anything that goes against the current orthodoxy – on COVID or other issues – would be considered an HR violation."
Sey says that at this time, she is not considering any legal action against Levi's.
In response to FOX Business' request for comment on Sey's claims, the company said in a statement, "Today, Levi Strauss & Co. announced management changes affecting our executive leadership team. Seth Ellison, EVP & Chief Commercial Officer will assume responsibility as the Levi’s® brand president on an interim basis in addition to his commercial duties, replacing Jen Sey, who resigned from the company."
The statement added, "LS&Co. has initiated a search for a new Levi’s® brand president, an opportunity to lead one of the world’s best known and most respected consumer brands."