One of TikTok's top executives, Katie Ellen Puris, is suing TikTok and its owner ByteDance, alleging wrongful termination based on age and gender discrimination.
In her complaint Filed Thursday, Puris accused ByteDance Chairman Lidong Zhang of aggressively forcing her to leave the company because she “lacked the docility and gentleness specifically required of female employees.” She also claimed she suffered retaliation after reporting sexual harassment to the company.
Puris joined TikTok in December 2019 as General Manager and Head of U.S. Commerce Marketing. Previously, she led global marketing initiatives for Google and Facebook. TikTok seemed to appreciate this experience and promoted her within two months to lead its global commerce marketing team. In this role, she launched TikTok for Business and significantly shaped the way businesses interact with the platform.
Amid this success, Puris reportedly discovered she had a target on her back.
According to his complaint, in early 2021, Beijing-based ByteDance executives, including Zhang, “began to reassert more control over TikTok’s day-to-day operations.” These leaders, Puris said, needed bimonthly meetings with senior management to report on their teams' progress in meeting company goals.
“Despite its attempts to appear independent, TikTok’s day-to-day management and business decisions came directly from ByteDance’s senior management in China,” Puris’ complaint claims.
During one of these bimonthly meetings, Puris first met Zhang during a presentation in which she “celebrated her team’s successes and accomplishments.” Apparently, Zhang was put off by Puris' presentation because “women should always remain humble and express their modesty.”
“Essentially, Lidong Zhang thinks women should keep quiet,” Puris’ complaint claims.
Puris believes that because she “didn't fit that stereotypical gender mold,” Zhang refused to see her again and placed her on a “hit list” of employees he wanted to fire.
According to Puris, Zhang began pressuring his supervisors to evaluate his performance negatively. He allegedly cast a wide net and solicited negative feedback from employees with whom Puris rarely worked. Her alleged “animosity” was so obvious that one of Puris' supervisors allegedly sought to protect her by removing her from Zhang's supervision.
At the same time, Puris, who was approaching 50, said other executives “had made it clear” that they would prefer to hire “hungry,” younger, less experienced workers “considered more innovative and more flexible” and “desperate for approval.” than older workers like Puris. She claimed that a supervisor regularly referred to her age during performance evaluations that became increasingly negative and without clear feedback or comments justifying her poor evaluations. Requests for comment were repeatedly declined.
Puris' efforts to report allegations of age and gender discrimination did not result in corrective action, according to his complaint. Even when a TikTok advertising partner allegedly sexually harassed her while drunk at an off-site event, Puris claimed her complaints were not taken seriously. Puris said TikTok continued to invite the advertising partner to events, forcing it to withdraw its participation.
Rather than sincerely investigating her complaints, Puris' complaint stated that “after Ms. Puris filed protected complaints, her team was significantly reduced, she received an extremely low performance evaluation, she was denied her bonus annual, she was dismissed from her position. , and she was ultimately fired illegally.”