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Estée Lauder’s executive group president leaves company after racist Instagram post

Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Beauty company Estée Lauder said John Demsey, executive group president, was told to leave the company on Monday, after posting a racist meme to his Instagram account.

Demsey’s shared image was a meme of a children’s book cover showing the Muppet Big Bird wearing a mask over his mouth and the Muppet Snuffy sick in bed. The meme made light of COVID-19 and, as a way to describe Snuffy, used the N-word as part of the book’s title.

“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,” the company said in a staff memo signed by Executive Chairman William P. Lauder, as well as Fabrizio Freda, president and CEO.

Social media quickly responded, condemning Demsey’s decision to share the meme.

Adrienne Lawrence, vice president of Jennifer Brown Consulting, a diversity organization, tweeted, “While I’m glad Estée Lauder acted swiftly by firing this executive for posting a racist meme, I hope the company takes the next step of rooting out how racism is impacting those within its ranks.”

Demsey posted an apology note to his Instagram, saying he is “deeply ashamed that I hurt so many people when I made the horrible mistake of carelessly reposting a meme without reading it beforehand.”

Despite reports that the executive was fired from the company, The New York Times reported that the company placed Demsey on unpaid leave, according to a regulatory filing. Demsey has agreed to retire, effective March 4.

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