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Levi's Jennifer Sey resigns over pressure on views about COVID school closures

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Jennifer Sey was a rising star at Levi Strauss. The former gymnast spent decades working her way up at the jeans company, eventually even being considered a possible candidate to become CEO. Then COVID-19 happened. In a blog post, she wrote that she decided to leave the apparel maker after it pressured her to stop speaking about her opposition to school closures because of the pandemic. 

Sey also said she turned down $1 million in severance because she feared it would come with a non-disclosure agreement that would prohibit her from talking about the reasons behind her departure. 

"The money would be very nice. But I just can't do it," she said Monday in her blog post, published on a Substack account run by conservative writer Bari Weiss. 

In an email to CBS MoneyWatch, Levi's confirmed Sey's resignation. Chief Commercial Officer Seth Ellison will take on the responsibilities as brand president on an interim basis, while the company starts its search for someone to fill Sey's role. Levi's didn't respond to Sey's comments or allegations.

The resignation is the latest example of corporations caught in the crosshairs of opposing views on COVID-related policies, such as the boycott of Carhartt products sparked last month when its CEO said he was still mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for employees even after the Supreme Court ruled against the federal regulation. Sey said she wanted to speak out against school closures because of "the harms caused by virtual learning."

Her views drew criticism from several executives and departments at Levi's, she said, including its HR and legal departments. Sey added that she was told she was on track to become the company's next CEO, but that she had to "stop talking about the school thing."

"In the last month, the CEO told me that it was 'untenable' for me to stay," Sey wrote.

"Trying to please the mob"

Levi's is "trapped trying to please the mob — and silencing any dissent within the organization. In this it is like so many other American companies: held hostage by intolerant ideologues who do not believe in genuine inclusion or diversity," Sey wrote.

Sey, who has four children, said that she spoke out on school closures as a private citizen, not on behalf of Levi's. In her post, she said she moved her family from San Francisco, California, to Denver so that her kindergartner could attend school in person — a move that attracted both local and national media attention.

Her opinions drew both support and criticism from readers on social media. 

"You are making a choice. Most do not make enough for that luxury," one reader noted. "But do you understand why schools closed? Sure, some risk to kids. But the key really is viruses often get into homes through schools more than kids are at risk."

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