Long-time Levi’s executive Jennifer Sey, who most recently served as Brand President, has quit after a years-long internal dispute over her activism against pandemic-related school closures.
In a self-penned column published in the Substack newsletter Common Sense, Sey said she quit because “the company I love has lost sight of the values that made people everywhere want to wear Levi’s.” Sey also said she turned down a $1 million severance package in order to avoid signing a non-disclosure agreement that would have barred her from telling her side of the story.
Levi’s responded via email to an inquiry from Retail TouchPoints, highlighting the fact that Sey had resigned and announcing that Seth Ellison, the company’s EVP and Chief Commercial Office, would be assuming the role of Brand President on an interim basis until a replacement was found: “LS&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,” a Levi’s spokesperson said in the email.
In her column, Sey recounted her 23-year career with Levi’s and the events that led to her departure, which centered on her vocal protests against the closure of public schools in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “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.”
Sey joined Levi’s as an Assistant Marketing Manager in 1999 and rose through the ranks, eventually becoming Chief Marketing Officer and then Brand President in October 2020. According to Sey, she was told she was on track to become the company’s next CEO during a dinner in fall 2021, and that “all I had to do was stop talking about the school thing,” for the promotion to materialize.
But Sey, who has four children in the public school system, didn’t stop, citing the company’s tolerance for political activism on other topics. The last straw, according to Sey, was reaction to her decision to appear on Fox News in March 2021, at which point “the comments from Levi’s employees picked up” and she was asked to go on an “apology tour.” Recently, she said she was told that it was “untenable” for her to stay on at the company.
Sey begins her column by recounting her decades-long passion for the Levi’s brand, which began in her teens when she was a nationally ranked gymnast: “If you had told me back then that I’d one day become the President of the brand, I would’ve never believed you,” she wrote. “If you told me that after achieving all that, after spending almost my entire career at one company, that I would resign from it, I’d think you were really crazy.”
Levi’s did not immediately respond to a request to comment for this story.