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Former TikTok Exec Says She Was Fired For Lacking 'Docility' Expected Of Women

A former TikTok executive has filed a lawsuit against the social media company and its China-based owner, ByteDance, accusing them of firing her based on a “stereotypical view of the way women should behave.”

In the suit, filed Thursday in New York federal court, Katie Ellen Puris said that she was subjected to age- and sex-based discrimination, and ultimately ended up on the “kill list” of ByteDance chair Lidong Zhang.

TikTok and ByteDance did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

A laptop keyboard and TikTok logo displayed on a phone screen are seen in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland, on Feb. 7, 2024.
A laptop keyboard and TikTok logo displayed on a phone screen are seen in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland, on Feb. 7, 2024.

A laptop keyboard and TikTok logo displayed on a phone screen are seen in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland, on Feb. 7, 2024.

According to the lawsuit, obtained by HuffPost, Puris was promoted to lead the company’s global business marketing team in 2020 and was invited to attend regular meetings with Zhang.

The suit claimed that Zhang was displeased with how Puris presented herself during the meetings and found it inappropriate that she celebrated her team’s successes, “because he believes that women should always remain humble and express modesty.”

“Essentially, Lidong Zhang believes women should be quiet,” the lawsuit stated.

As Puris attended more meetings, she would lose control over her presentations and documents until she was ultimately not permitted to speak or present again, according to the suit.

Puris said Zhang and other corporate leaders believed that she “lacked the docility and meekness specifically required of female employees.” According to the lawsuit, leadership’s views would only become more apparent “as she neared 50.”

The document noted a number of instances in which Puris was allegedly subjected to unfair treatment based on her gender — saying, for example, that she was sexually harassed at a company event and that TikTok “failed to respond appropriately.” According to the lawsuit, the company did not take corrective action whenever she reported discriminatory treatment.

Puris said that by 2021 she was added to Zhang’s “kill list,” which was allegedly intended to force employees out by creating an unhealthy work culture.

According to a 2022 report in the Financial Times, multiple workers at TikTok’s London office said that leaders had created a hostile work environment to encourage certain staff members to resign. The outlet wrote that one TikTok employee said she had been “singled out by leaders regularly and verbally reprimanded.”

According to Thursday’s lawsuit, Puris was stressed by being placed on Zhang’s kill list, saying that this led to health concerns and even surgeries.

Puris is represented by the Wigdor law firm, which has filed a number of major lawsuits against entertainment’s biggest names, including one against Sean “Diddy” Combs that accused him of sex trafficking.

In a statement on the firm’s website, Wigdor attorneys Marjorie Mesidor and Monica Hincken said that they “look forward to vindicating” their client’s rights, adding that Puris had achieved success as a TikTok employee.

“Yet, when she began complaining about the discriminatory treatment she received and the Company’s failure to properly handle her sexual harassment complaint, she swiftly suffered retaliatory consequences that resulted in her unlawful termination,” the attorneys wrote.

Elsewhere in the statement, Puris said that throughout her years working as a woman, she was taught to remain quiet if she wanted to be successful.

“Gender discrimination and sexual harassment were commonplace, but speaking out was career suicide,” Puris said. “Wisdom has taught me that I no longer need to be silenced or afraid to fight for change.”

Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.

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