'Inappropriate and Insensitive': Tech CEO Apologizes After Being Slammed For 'Tone Deaf' Layoff Email Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada is apologizing after sending an email to employees announcing that the company would be slashing 7% of its total workforce.

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By Emily Rella

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PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada

Informing employees about mass layoffs is most likely not an easy task for CEOs and company heads, but doing so in a tone-deaf way — and then being blasted on the internet for doing so — is probably the least ideal way to do it.

Cloud computing company PagerDuty is making headlines after CEO Jennifer Tejada sent an internal memo to employees announcing that the company would be laying off 7% of its total global workforce (about 66 employees) while quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and announcing promotions in higher leadership.

"After considering a range of approaches for strengthening the company as we move forward, we are further refining our operating model as we work to increase our capacity while improving our cost structure, focusing our efforts, and improving our return on investments," Tejada wrote to employees. "It is my expectation that we show all of our colleagues the grace, respect, and dignity they have earned. As someone who has worked in this industry for decades, I have experienced this before and it is never easy, and I also know from experience that while we may not work together in the short term, our relationships and this community live beyond our tenure at PagerDuty."

Related: Sweetgreen CEO Apologizes to Staff After Fatphobic Comments

Then, just sentences later, the CEO announced that Jeremy Kmet, SVP of North America Sales at the company, would be promoted to Senior Vice President of Global Field Operations beginning on February 1.

And then came the kicker:

"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,'" Tejada wrote. "PagerDuty is a leader that stands behind its customers, its values, and our vision — for an equitable world where we transform critical work so all teams can delight their customers and build trust."

The quote is from a sermon the activist gave in the 1950s before immortalizing it in "The Measure of a Man" in 1959.

Naturally, once the email started making its rounds on the Internet, people were not pleased with her choice of words.

Tejada's email said those who were let go would receive 11 weeks of severance with the possibility of additional severance based on the individual employee's tenure at the company. Axed employees will also be given "a minimum" of three to four months of extended healthcare coverage for themselves and any claimed dependents.

The notice cited the shifting "macro environment," inflation, and the Federal Reserve hiking interest rates as a reason for uncertainty in the market, and among PagerDuty's customers' (businesses), hesitation toward using the service, thus stalling growth for the company.

Related: Google CEO Sundar Pichai Addresses Layoffs in Town Hall Meeting

Three days after her initial email, Tejada apologized to employees in an email that PagerDuty made public on its website. The note came after a company-wide town hall.

"This has been a difficult week for our company," she said. "There are a number of things I would do differently if I could. The quote I included from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was inappropriate and insensitive. I should have been more upfront about the layoffs in the email, more thoughtful about my tone, and more concise. I am sorry."

PagerDuty did not immediately respond to Entrepreneur's request for comment.

In Q4 2022, PagerDuty reported $78.5 million in revenue (up 34% year over year), bringing overall revenue in fiscal 2022 to $281.4 million, a 31.8% year-over-year increase from 2021.

Emily Rella

Entrepreneur Staff

News Writer

Emily Rella is a news writer at Entrepreneur.com. Previously, she was an editor at Verizon Media. Her coverage spans features, business, lifestyle, tech, entertainment, and lifestyle. She is a 2015 graduate of Boston College and a Ridgefield, CT native. Find her on Twitter at @EmilyKRella.

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