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Top Estee Lauder exec pushed out over racist Instagram post

March 1, 2022, 10:00 AM UTC

Estee Lauder Cos. said it has terminated veteran executive John Demsey, days after placing him on leave over a social-media post that included a racial slur and a reference to the coronavirus. 

Demsey, who is executive group president and oversees brands such as Clinique and Mac, will leave the company and retire as of March 4, Estee Lauder said in a regulatory filing on Monday. 

“This decision is the result of his recent Instagram posts, which do not reflect the values of the Estee 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,” Executive Chairman William P. Lauder and Chief Executive Officer Fabrizio Freda said in a statement, which the company sent to employees and published on its website. 

Demsey apologized last week on Instagram for making “the horrible mistake of carelessly reposting a racist meme without reading it beforehand.” Earlier in the week, Estee Lauder had placed Demsey on unpaid leave for an unspecified period after his Feb. 21 Instagram post that included the slur on a mock children’s-book cover featuring Sesame Street characters. 

Demsey didn’t respond to a request for comment on Monday. An Estee Lauder spokeswoman said that Demsey wasn’t fired but rather was “told he had to leave the company” and agreed to retire this week. 

The Instagram account Estee Laundry, which is closely watched in the cosmetics industry and has 190,000 followers, last week highlighted Demsey’s post that included the slur and wrote, “How can someone who makes such comments oversee inclusive brands like @maccosmetics?” 

The account also highlighted what it said was another recent post by Demsey that was later removed, with a photo of a Black model and the comment “bad guys in Scooby Doo when they get their mask yanked off.” The Estee Laundry account said, “How is this acceptable?”

The brands that Demsey has overseen will continue to be led by their global presidents, who will report directly to Freda in the interim, an Estee Lauder spokeswoman said. “Plans for the organization will be announced later,” she said.

Estee Lauder shares fell 1.3% to $296.33 on Monday in New York.

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