Tech company CEO apologizes for ‘insensitive’ use of MLK Jr. quote in layoffs email

Business Wire

A California technology company’s CEO apologized after including a quote from a Martin Luther King Jr. sermon in an email to employees announcing layoffs, calling it “inappropriate and insensitive.”

Toward the end of her 1,700-word email to employees on Jan. 24, which is posted on the company’s website, PagerDuty’s Jennifer Tejada quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “The Measure of a Man” shortly after announcing company promotions.

“I am reminded in moments like this, of something Martin Luther King said, that ‘the ultimate measure of a [leader] is not where [they] stand in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where [they] stand in times of challenge and controversy,’” the email reads.

PagerDuty did not immediately return McClatchy News’ request for comment on Jan. 31.

In the email announcing layoffs, which does not include the word “layoffs,” Tejada first talks about the economy while interweaving the company’s successes.

About seven paragraphs into the email, Tejada mentions four “refinements” for the company’s operating model, which includes “eliminating roughly 7% of roles globally.”

The San Francisco-based cloud-computing company is estimated to have 950 full-time employees, according to Yahoo Finance.

Four paragraphs later, Tejada notes that those affected by the layoffs will receive severance with an average of 11 weeks of pay, health-care coverage for at least three months and “career transition support.”

Some on social media were quick to criticize Tejada’s approach.

“Did PagerDuty seriously decide it was a good idea to quote MLK in a press release where they are laying off 7% of their workforce?” one Twitter user wrote.

One user called the email an “all time classic bad layoff announcement,” while another referred to the announcement as “the most tone-deaf layoff email.”

“The email is very long, and feels like it was written by an AI that took all the phrases that people usually say, and put it into one long email,” one user wrote.

Similarly, another user suggested that the announcement looked as if it was written by ChatGPT.

Some, however, stood behind Tejada.

“I have no perspective on any of PagerDuty HR actions or corporate communications,” one user wrote. “But I know Jennifer Tejada to be deeply authentic with unimpeachable integrity. She will handle the criticism and fight on to do what’s right.”

Another called Tejada a “tremendous human and deeply thoughtful and caring leader.”

In her apology email sent on Jan. 27, Tejada says she “should have been more upfront about the layoffs in the email, more thoughtful about my tone, and more concise.”

“The way I communicated layoffs distracted from our number one priority: showing care for the employees we laid off, and demonstrating the grace, respect, and appreciation they and all of you deserve,” Tejada wrote.

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