John Demsey, Estée Lauder Executive, Ousted Over Racist Instagram Meme

John Demsey, executive group president for Estée Lauder, was asked to leave the position after posting a meme on his Instagram that contained a racial slur, the company announced Monday.

In a statement, Estée Lauder said Demsey was ousted because his posts "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." Demsey is the latest in a series of prominent people who have received public backlash for racist comments and posts, especially since the Black Lives Matter movement reignited on a large scale in 2020.

Demsey had been with the company for 31 years, overseeing large brands like Clinique and MAC. The meme in question, which has since been deleted, depicted a book cover with Big Bird from Sesame Street wearing a COVID-19 mask along with the slur, the New York Post reported. Demsey has more than 73,000 Instagram followers.

In a statement posted to his Instagram, Demsey apologized for the post. In it, he said he was "deeply ashamed" and that he reposted the meme without reading it beforehand.

"The meme is the furthest thing from what I stand for and I should have never reposted it," he wrote. "I am so sorry that I let down the Company that I have dedicated my life's work to as well as its employees, artists, friends, and colleagues."

The company's statement said Demsey must leave the company effective this week. An Estée Lauder spokesman clarified to the Post that he was not technically fired, but chose to retire this week after being told he had to leave.

In the statement, Estée Lauder said inclusion, diversity and equity are some of the company's core values.

"Furthermore, over the past two years, we have worked together as an organization to advance our approach to racial equity and have taken a hard look at where we can and should do better," it said. "Together we are making progress against our commitments to our employees, our partners, and consumers."

Last year, the company launched a New Equity and Engagement Center of Excellence to tackle diversity and inclusion goals after receiving criticism for not hiring enough Black employees or buying enough products from Black-owned businesses, Forbes reported. As of June 2021, 9.2 percent of its job openings had been filled by Black candidates, a 3 percent increase over the previous year, according to a statement.

Demsey's exit comes as other officials across the country face backlash for racist statements. Newsweek previously reported Columbia University's Department of Psychiatry chair was suspended after criticism arose around his tweet about a Sudanese model. In Kansas, the state education commissioner submitted his resignation after making a racist remark about Native Americans, but his resignation was rejected.

Update 02/28/22 11:30 a.m. ET: This story was updated to add more information.

John Demsey, Estee Lauder
John Demsey, a senior executive for Estee Lauder, was asked to leave the company after reposting a racist Instagram meme. Above, Demsey speaks onstage at the Women In Film Pre-Oscar Cocktail Party Fig & Olive Melrose Place on February 28, 2014, in West Hollywood, California. Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for Women In Film