The CEO of a telemedicine company has been terminated after being accused of harassing an 18-year-old male wearing a prom dress.
In an interview with NBC News published Monday, Dalton Stevens, a high school senior from Franklin, Tennessee, said he decided to wear a dress to prom to show that “clothing is really genderless” and “it has no meaning.”
While he and boyfriend Jacob Geitmann took photos with friends at a hotel before the Franklin High School prom, Stevens says a man — later identified as VisuWell CEO Sam Johnson — allegedly asked him why he was wearing a dress.
“I think I look good in it and that I really like the dress, and I want to show that clothing is genderless,” Stevens said he responded. “And I explained that to him, and he continued to just call me names and just follow me.”
Stevens told NBC News that Johnson allegedly called him “stupid,” as well as other names that NBC News describes as “vulgar” and “in a homophobic manner.”
Johnson also allegedly told Stevens that he has “hair on your chest, you shouldn’t be wearing a dress.”
During the confrontation, Geitmann began recording and asks Johnson if he thinks Stevens looks “disgusting.”
Though the audio is inaudible, outlets such as NBC News and TooFab reported Johnson replied, “He does.”
Johnson is heard in the clip telling Stevens, “You look like an idiot.”
At one point, Johnson appears to try to smack the phone out of Geitmann’s hand and may have inadvertently struck Stevens in the process.
After the clip went viral, VisuWell released a statement saying Johnson has been terminated as CEO and no longer has a position on the board of directors or any informal advisory role.
“His behavior was not representative of our values, which include respect and compassion for all,” the company continued.
Post 1/2: In response to those asking for additional clarity on Sam Johnson’s termination as CEO, we can confirm that Mr. Johnson is no longer employed by VisuWell in any capacity.— Visuwell (@VisuWell) April 27, 2021
Post 2/2: He no longer has a position on the Board of Directors or any informal advisory role. His behavior was not representative of our values, which include respect and compassion for all.— Visuwell (@VisuWell) April 27, 2021
In an interview with Newsweek published Monday, Johnson slammed the accusations against him as “entirely false,” claiming the confrontation “wasn’t anything personal or involving a dress,” but rather “about obnoxious, loud behavior by this group of teens.”
Johnson said he had approached the teenagers to request they “tone down the vulgarities around the families and children who were present,” including his own.
“We had just sat down for dinner at this restaurant that we frequent, and I was returning from the restroom when I was presented with their loud cursing,” Johnson told the outlet.
Johnson also alleged the students “edited out most of the exchange” and that it was their idea to make the encounter about Stevens’ dress.
“I have no ill will towards anyone or their personal choices, so long as it does not harm me or my family,” he said, adding that his family left the establishment of their own free will.
However, Stevens denies to NBC News that he and his friends were being loud or cursing before the confrontation.
“We never had any type of vulgar language until this gentleman approached and started harassing us,” he said.
Despite Johnson claiming that he left on his own free will, police Lt. Charles Warner said officers — who responded to the hotel after staff members called to report an unwanted person — “advised the man that he would need to close out his ticket and leave the premises, as requested by hotel management.” Warner also says Johnson “denied any involvement in a confrontation.”
Warner added that although police have seen the video of the incident, they have not been asked to investigate.
“There does not appear to be a record that they or anyone else, besides hotel management, contacted the police about the altercation,” Warner said. “If they do and would like to pursue this matter further, the department will investigate and assist them with all applicable next steps.”