Former Levi’s President Jennifer Sey says the jean-maker offered her a $1 million severance package to leave the company and stay silent about why she was ousted.
Instead of taking the money, Sey, who announced Monday she had quit her job, said she opted to speak out.
Sey has said she ruffled the wrong feathers at Levi’s by publicly criticizing public school closures amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, Sey said she was told it was “untenable” for her to stay. She was offered a $1 million severance package, the former Levi’s president said, but she declined it, knowing the the money would come with strings attached in the form of a nondisclosure agreement.
“I quite so I could be free,” read the headline of a Sey’s Monday article announcing her decision on independent journalist Bari Weiss’ Substack.
In an interview Wednesday with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Sey explained why she took this stand after nearly two years of speaking out against school closures.
“Well, for me, this whole thing has culminated in really being about the silencing of dissent and really not being able to hold a viewpoint that is outside whatever the mainstream narrative is — the ‘orthodoxy,'” she said.
“I was very outspoken that closed schools were harming children — in my city, San Francisco, and in cities across the country — and that seemed like a very sensible position to me. It seems folks agree with that now, but it was unacceptable and [you] have to be able to say that.”
Levi’s is not the only entity cracking down on dissent, Sey said.
“It’s a broader issue in the culture — it’s not a Levi’s issue, it’s not specific to Levi’s — the silencing of dissent,” she said.
Sey went on to say that while the $1 million offer was “tempting,” taking the money would have violated her principles.
“It goes against everything in my entire being, and it’s not to say it wasn’t tempting — I mean, I am human, and that’s a lot of security for my family — but I had persisted for two years, in continuing to speak out on this subject because I care about kids,” she said. “To agree to stay silent at the last minute — because of money — just felt so unacceptable, and just gross to me, and in violation of everything I said I stood for.”
Levi's just forced out Jennifer Sey for criticizing school shutdowns and mask mandates. The company offered her $1 million in severance to keep quiet, but she refused. pic.twitter.com/tJXXCf7svD
— Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson) February 16, 2022
In her Substack column, Sey, a liberal who supported Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 Democratic primaries, further detailed the series of events that led her to quit.
“Early on in the pandemic, I publicly questioned whether schools had to be shut down,” she wrote. “This didn’t seem at all controversial to me.
“I felt — and still do — that the draconian policies 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.”
Her employer apparently disagreed.
“In the summer of 2020, I finally got the call. ‘You know when you speak, you speak on behalf of the company,’ our head of corporate communications told me, urging me to pipe down,” Sey recalled. “I responded: ‘My title is not in my Twitter bio. I’m speaking as a public school mom of four kids.'”
Levi’s didn’t care, according to Sey.
“But the calls kept coming. From legal. From HR. From a board member. And finally, from my boss, the CEO of the company,” she wrote. “I explained why I felt so strongly about the issue, citing data on the safety of schools and the harms caused by virtual learning. While they didn’t try to muzzle me outright, I was told repeatedly to ‘think about what I was saying.'”
But Sey kept speaking out. Eventually, Sey said, she was ousted.
“In the last month, the CEO told me that it was ‘untenable’ for me to stay. I was offered a $1 million severance package, but I knew I’d have to sign a nondisclosure agreement about why I’d been pushed out,” she wrote.
“The money would be very nice. But I just can’t do it. Sorry, Levi’s.”