PagerDuty CEO quotes Martin Luther King Jr in layoff email, faces flak

The CEO of a San Francisco-based tech company has issued an apology after quoting civil rights champion Martin Luther King Jr. in an email announcing layoffs, which was massively trolled online.

In the 1,700-word email sent last week, PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada said that she was slashing 7% of its employees, while simultaneously announcing promotions for a few executives.

Shared on the company website, too, Tejada added that the moment reminded her of Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote 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.”

On Twitter, users lambasted her for being “tone deaf”, and criticised her for using the word “refinements” instead of layoffs and announcing promotions and positive financial results alongside job cuts.

The head of the cloud computing company was accused of using corporate jargon to sugarcoat the obvious, while many users wondered whether it was written by artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT.

“All time classic bad layoff announcement: CEO of PagerDuty opens with “Hi Dutonians,” takes 370 words to get to the layoffs bit, continues for another *1250 words*, and ends with “..something Martin Luther King said…” tweeted Tom Gara, a technology communications manager at Meta.

While one user advised Tejada to not “quote MLK when firing 7% of the workforce”, another shared a screenshot of her annual salary of $13.2 million.

In an update shared on January 27, Tejada admitted that quoting the civil rights icon was “inappropriate and insensitive” and also addressed the flowery manner in which the layoffs were announced. “I should have been more upfront about the layoffs in the email, more thoughtful about my tone, and more concise. I am sorry,” she wrote in the new letter.

Sacked staff have been promised “severance with an average of 11 weeks pay, extended healthcare coverage for themselves and their dependents for three to four months”, and help with finding employment.