After a week of speculation on what would happen to one of the most senior and long-standing executives at The Estée Lauder Cos. following a racist post to his Instagram account almost a week prior, the global cosmetics giant announced on Feb. 28 that John Demsey had been asked to leave the company. In an 8-K filed on Monday, Lauder disclosed that effective February 22, the Executive Group President was placed on unpaid leave and was informed he must leave the company. He will retire, effective March 4, 2022. He had served at Lauder for 31 years.
The February 22 post contained the N-word with several letters replaced by asterisks and made fun of the Coronavirus, alongside an image of Sesame Street characters on a pretend cover of a Little Golden Book. It has since been removed.
The post immediately drew hundreds of negative comments on @EsteeLaundry, a beauty industry watch dog Instagram account that spotlights the best and worst of businesses and their executives. Comments called the post “racist and alarming” and initially questioned whether Lauder would do anything more than suspend John without pay. The account @jdemsey has 73.9K followers and is followed by many executives, some of whom said they are former Lauder executives in their comments, requesting anonymity.
A release from the company on Monday stated that the decision to let John go “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 company added that inclusion, diversity, and equity are core to its values and priorities, and that senior leaders “are accountable to continue driving our progress and to respect the values of this company for the long term.”
John oversaw many businesses at Lauder, including M.A.C, Clinique, Too Faced and Smashbox. He issued an apology to his account on February 23.