Estee Lauder fires John Demsey over racist Instagram meme

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John Demsey, president of Estee Lauder Cos., speaks at the World Retail Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Friday, May 8, 2009.

Mike Laburu | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Cosmetics company Estee Lauder said Monday that it had forced out executive John Demsey, days after he acknowledged he posted a racist meme on a personal social media account.

The announcement came in a letter that was shared with its employees worldwide.

Demsey, 65, faced backlash for an Instagram post containing the N-word and a joke about Covid-19, which is no longer on his feed. He was initially suspended without pay. Demsey, who oversaw cosmetic brands such as Clinique, later apologized in another post.

“I am so terribly sorry and deeply ashamed that I hurt so many people when I made the horrible mistake of carelessly reporting a racist meme without reading it beforehand,” said Demsey.

A company representative said he was told to leave the company and that he agreed to retire.

Estee Lauder’s decision comes as part of an initiative to become more inclusive and equitable over the past two years, according to the letter. “Together we are making progress against our commitments to our employees, our partners, and consumers.”

Shares of the company were down about 1.8% at $294.94 late Monday morning amid a broader market selloff.

The Wall Street Journal first reported Demsey’s exit.

Clarification: This story was updated to reflect that Demsey agreed to retire.


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