Tenn. CEO Fired After Calling Teen Boy Who Wore Dress to Prom an 'Idiot' in Viral Video
VisuWell announced CEO Sam Johnson was fired in a statement on Tuesday, but he tells PEOPLE he has "no" regrets
A Tennessee CEO was fired from his job after he was caught on video verbally harassing a male high school student who wore a dress to his prom.
VisuWell, a telemedicine company, said Tuesday that CEO Sam Johnson had been fired, effective immediately, following an investigation into the incident, which gained national attention after it went viral on TikTok.
"VisuWell's culture emphasizes respect, kindness, and compassion, especially for those from traditionally marginalized communities, and we maintain a zero-tolerance policy for intolerance of any kind," the company said in a statement. "Mr. Johnson's actions contradicted the high standards we set for ourselves in promoting the health of those who use our platform."
The incident occurred on Saturday outside the Harpeth Hotel in downtown Franklin, Tennessee, where high school student Dalton Stevens was taking photos with boyfriend Jacob Geittmann before prom, The Tennessean reported.
Stevens wore a long red dress with sleeves for the occasion, and he told ABC affiliate WKRN that he views clothes as "genderless."
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"I was very confident," he told the outlet. "I knew that I felt beautiful, and I felt great."
Soon, however, Johnson approached the couple as they stood outside and began badgering Stevens on his outfit choice, Geittmann explained in a TikTok video.
"This man starts going on and on, throwing insults at him [like], 'You look disgusting, you look ridiculous, you look like an idiot, men shouldn't be wearing this.' All of this homophobic banter," Geittmann said.
Geittmann said that he took out his phone to record the encounter, at which point Johnson allegedly slapped it out of his hands. After he picked it up, Geittmann said Johnson swung a second time, but missed, hitting Stevens in the back. Johnson denied the version of events to PEOPLE, calling them "false."
In an interview with Newsmax, however, Johnson said he initially approached the teens because they were "being loud, cursing [and saying] vulgarities."
"As a Christian, I think that all people are created equal. I don't have any ill feelings toward these teenagers," he said. "I think that they have the right to do whatever they want, but I also should have the right to ask a question if I want to about what they're doing."
Johnson said he asked Stevens why he was wearing a red dress, and admitted to calling the teen an idiot.
"Frankly, I should not have done that," he said. "I apologized to Dalton for that comment already, but the tensions were so elevated at that moment while I was trying to re-enter the restaurant, which they accused me on social media of following the teen, which I did not."
Johnson tells PEOPLE that Stevens, who did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment, did not respond to his apology, which was offered through a private Twitter message.
When asked if he had any additional regrets over the situation, and if he would do anything differently, Johnson responded, "No."
The initial TikTok video that sent the story viral shows Johnson following Stevens closely with a smile on his face. At one point, Stevens says, "I'm sorry, I'm gorgeous," to which Johnson responds, "Are you?"
Management soon called police, who arrived to find Johnson sitting at the bar, The Tennessean reported. Johnson reportedly denied the altercation, and tells PEOPLE that the viral video edited out "parts that made me look like a calm defender of community, family and decency."
While a spokesperson for Franklin police told The Tennessean that the department will investigate further if the teens want to pursue the matter, Stevens said that he was able to brush Johnson's comments aside and enjoy his big night.
"I didn't let it ruin my night," he told the newspaper. "I still walked into the school knowing I was wearing a dress with six-inch heels and was serving all the looks. And anybody who wants to look can look. A guy can look just as hot in a dress as a girl can."
Comedian Kathy Griffin was among the many people who pushed for Johnson's firing, and VisuWell later clarified its statement with a confirmation that Johnson is no longer employed by the company in any capacity, and is no longer on the Board of Directors.
"His behavior was not representative of our values, which include respect and compassion for all," VisuWell wrote on Twitter.