Millionaire San Fran tech CEO apologizes for quoting MLK in layoff letter

PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada, who heads up the San Francisco-based tech company and made in excess of $13 million in 2022, scrabbled to apologize after quoting Martin Luther King Jr. in a letter that was sent to employees announcing layoffs last Thursday.

The letter was posted to the company’s website but was updated to reflect the CEO’s groveling apology on Friday following intense ridicule and derision online.

“None of this would be possible without you, our leadership, and our board — thank you for your grit and resilience, your commitment to our customers, and your support of our values and people,” Tejada wrote in the letter and then noted the layoffs “will be painful for those Dutonians impacted, their loved ones and their teammates because every PagerDuty employee is an important, valuable part of our community.”

“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,” she continued. “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 blowback after the letter came out was massive, which prompted the apology.

“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,” she stated in the update.

The chief executive admitted that the way she communicated the 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.”

The original letter was long and rambling. It did not lead with announcing the layoffs which left employees feeling as though they were sandbagged and that letting them go was an afterthought, not a life-changing event. In fact, the word “layoff” was never actually used in the letter at all. The 66 terminations, roughly 7% of the company’s workforce, were referred to as “refinements” being implemented to strengthen the company in the near future.

PagerDuty is a cloud computing firm. It employs roughly 950 workers and has offices in San Francisco, Atlanta, Toronto, Australia, and the UK. The current layoffs primarily affect North American employees.

Twitter users called the letter “the most tone-deaf layoff email” they had ever seen and that it felt like it was written by ChatGPT.

“The most tone-deaf layoff email I read so far was written yesterday, and it comes from PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada. 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 one long email,” wrote author Gergely Orosz.

PagerDuty is one of a wave of tech companies that have reduced their workforces in recent months as they weather the flailing economy. The tech sector is a bloodbath of layoffs currently.

The company has reported revenue of $94.2 million for the most recent quarter and a net loss of $32.8 million according to the Daily Mail.

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