After 23 years at Levi Strauss and Co., brand president Jennifer Sey is resigning following reports that her outspoken stance on pandemic-related school closures created tensions within the company.
On Monday, the denim executive published an article in Bari Weiss’ Common Sense—which was later reprinted in the New York Post—alleging that her controversial opinions were the reason for her being “pushed out” of her leadership position.
Since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, Sey has been a vocal opponent of the U.S. public schools’ closure mandate, writing op-eds, appearing on local news shows and organizing rallies in support of keeping schools open. Ever since, she alleges that the company’s head of corporate communications, its legal and HR departments and ultimately president and CEO Chip Bergh warned her that she was a reflection of the company and that she should “think about” what she was saying.
The company has a long legacy of taking a stance on social issues such as gun reform, voters’ rights and immigration, and was recently one of six companies profiled in a corporate civic playbook for its initiatives for increasing voter turnout. While the company encourages employees to vote regardless of where they stand politically, both Bergh and the brand’s following lean left: Last year, the executive appeared in a televised interview with CNN reporter Poppy Harlow discussing Georgia’s “restrictive” and “racist” voting laws, noting that the company was working with legislators to ensure they weren’t passed in other states. He later defended his stance during a meeting with shareholders in April, stating that business leaders have a responsibility to be a part of these conversations.
Though Sey shared in a Monday Twitter thread that she always considered her political views to be “left” or “left of center,” critics feel her view on opening schools is dangerous—specifically to the minority population most vulnerable to Covid—and in line with that of QAnon conspiracy theorists. Instead, Sey said keeping schools closed 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’s op-ed detailed a Fall 2021 dinner where Bergh allegedly told her she was on track to become the next CEO of Levi’s—and that she just needed to “stop talking about the school thing.” Later, she was told it was “untenable” for her to stay, and subsequently turned down a $1 million severance package that would be given in exchange for signing a nondisclosure agreement. Sey went on to claim in her op-ed that Levi’s is “being held hostage by intolerant ideologues who do not believe in genuine inclusion or diversity.”
Levi Strauss & Co.’s director of business and financial communications Ancel Martínez issued a statement acknowledging Sey’s resignation, stating that her responsibilities would be fulfilled by Seth Ellison, the company’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer, on an interim basis.
“Levi Strauss & 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,” he said.
Last April, the company earned a top spot in a report from RepTrak, a solution that ranks global companies’ reputations among consumers. The report evaluates companies based on millions of data points surrounding their products and services, innovation, workplace, governance, citizenship, leadership and financial performance—categories that RepTrak considers the seven key drivers of reputation. Ranking for the 2021 report was based on 68,577 respondents collected globally across the 15 largest economies through online surveys. Levi’s was ranked No. 14 out of 100.