September 25, 2023

Black Ex-Employees Accuse TikTok Of Racism And Retaliation In New Federal Complaint


Two Black TikTok workers have formed a complaint to the US Government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) about racism and discrimination they faced at work.

Nnete Matima and Joel Carter have accused TikTok’s parent company of racism and retaliation, alleging ByteDance Ltd. terminated their contracts after they spoke up about the discrimination.

Nnete Matima

Matima told CNN she was attracted to work at TikTok because the social media platform was “built upon Black culture” and the work of Black creators.

After seeing TikTok’s pledge of support for the Black community after the 2020 murder of George Floyd, she applied to work for the company as their values resonated with her.

However, within the first week of her sales role at the company, Matima was under severe stress. She told NPR that she was the sole Black employee at the time.

She soon realized she was being treated differently from her colleagues, for example, given heavier workloads and excluded from meetings.

“I came in so optimistic, you know, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, thinking this was where I would launch my career and just soar,” Matima told NPR.

She also alleged that several supervisors, including a vice president, referred to her repeatedly as a “Black snake.”

Matima filed two complaints with human resources (HR), and after the second complaint, she was fired from her role.

Joel Carter 

Based at the company’s Austin, TX office on TikTok’s advertising team, according to Bloomberg, Carter was wrongly assigned a lower level and salary than his white co-workers with the same credentials.

After being assigned a new role after his first year at the company, he was also denied credit for his accomplishments and ideas.

Carter was portrayed as “angry” and “tense” while falsely accused of slamming doors.

Carter went to HR, said he was facing racial discrimination, and asked to be transferred to another department.

The company once again responded by determining there had been no race discrimination.

In a message to HR, Carter wrote that the characterization of him as angry and tense perpetuates a historically false narrative about people of color, especially Black people.

What Is Happening Now?

Matima and Carter filed a complaint with the US EEOC on Thursday, which enforces federal workplace anti-discrimination laws. 

Matima and Carter allege TikTok has a practice of downplaying racial discrimination complaints and then retaliating against people who speak out, leaving a chilling effect on other employees coming forward.

“In my experience, when people of color speak out, even internally, about their concerns, they become dead to the company,” said Peter Romer-Friedman, a labor lawyer representing Matima and Carter.

“We take employee concerns very seriously and have strong policies in place that prohibit discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace,” Michael Hughes, a TikTok spokesperson, wrote in an email to NPR.

Sara Keenan

Tech Reporter at POCIT. Following her master's degree in journalism, Sara cultivated a deep passion for writing and driving positive change for Black and Brown individuals across all areas of life. This passion expanded to include the experiences of Black and Brown people in tech thanks to her internship experience as an editorial assistant at a tech startup.