PagerDuty CEO Apologizes for MLK Quote in Layoff Email

A photo of PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada with her arms out on stage.

Photo: Steve Jennings (Getty Images)

PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada, the author of the worst tech layoff email in recent months, wants you to know that she’s sorry. In hindsight, she said, refusing to say the word “layoffs” and quoting Martin Luther King Jr. was probably not the right thing to do when you’re laying off 7% of your employees.

Tejada told employees that she regretted sending the Jan. 24 email where she announced layoffs, or as she called them, “refinements,” celebrated employee promotions, teased good financial results, and quoted Martin Luther King Jr.—all in the same 1,669-word email. Tejada’s layoff delivery received widespread backlash on social media and prompted a series of news stories on the tech company, which specializes in digital operations management.

“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 said on Jan. 24, slightly changing the quote from one of King’s sermons published in The Measure of a Man in 1959 with brackets.

In a follow-up email to staff last Friday, Tejada said she was sorry and would have done things differently looking back.

“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 email, which was posted to PagerDuty’s website.

The PagerDuty CEO added that the way she communicated the layoffs distracted the company from its top priority: “showing care for the employees we laid off, and demonstrating the grace, respect, and appreciation they and all of you deserve.”

To Tejada’s credit, she did announce decent severance packages for the 7% of employees laid off, including 11 weeks of pay and extended healthcare coverage. Voice AI company SoundHound, for example, made severance contingent on the company receiving investment after its layoffs. It’s just hard to remember that considering everything she crammed into the email.

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