Alibaba Dismisses Employee Who Accused Her Boss of Rape

Alibaba, China’s e-commerce giant, has dismissed a woman who accused a superior of raping her during a business trip in July, a case that has highlighted the toxic workplace culture of the country’s tech industry and the hurdles Chinese women face when they experience sexual harassment or assault.

The woman, identified in court papers only by her last name, Zhou, learned of her dismissal in a letter last month from a company affiliate based in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Tmall Technology, a lawyer representing her, Du Peng, said on Sunday.

Her case — and the online furor it has stirred since August — became one of the most prominent of China’s struggling #MeToo movement, which has raised awareness of the issue of sexual abuse but also underscored the deep-rooted cultural and institutional biases that women in China face when they come forward.

Alibaba, one of China’s most valuable private companies and the core of the business empire of Jack Ma, at first moved quickly to address her accusation, which she publicized by unfurling a banner in a company cafeteria and posting a video of her protest on the company’s internal website.

The company dismissed the man she accused, while two senior managers resigned for failing to take action after Ms. Zhou reported the episode. Now the company appears to be disputing her accusation, saying in the dismissal letter that she had “spread falsehoods such as ‘raped by executives and the company knew but did not deal with it.’”

“Since August, the incident has gone through several twists and turns,” the letter went on, “and the damage caused to the company and the parties, including you, is incalculable.”

Her accusation has not been buried by censors, as happened when Peng Shuai, the professional tennis player, posted an allegation of sexual assault against a former vice premier, Zhang Gaoli.

Alibaba did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday. Mr. Du, the lawyer, declined to comment beyond confirming her dismissal and the letter informing her, which was previously reported by Dahe Daily, a publication of the state-owned Henan Daily Newspaper Group.

The publication posted a lengthy interview with Ms. Zhou, in which she recounted the anguish she experienced in the aftermath of her accusation, including harassment online, the threat of legal action against her and, effective Nov. 25, her firing. Mr. Du said that Ms. Zhou was not immediately available to comment.

In the video she posted on the company’s internal website, she accused her boss, identified in media reports by his surname, Wang, of attacking her in a hotel in the city of Jinan after a drunken evening with a company client, whom she also accused of sexual assault. She said that she had reported the assault to the company but no one acted, prompting her to go public.

Prosecutors in Jinan investigated her accusation but announced in September that they would not file charges against Mr. Wang because his behavior did not constitute a crime. The other man, who has been identified in police statements by his last name, Zhang, is still reported to be under investigation for his role in the events that night.

The decision not to prosecute Mr. Wang brought more attention to the case. Its notoriety was fueled by Alibaba’s prominence and, perhaps, by the government campaign against it and its founder, Mr. Ma.

When Ms. Zhou’s accusation went public, Alibaba said the company had “a zero-tolerance policy against sexual misconduct” and vowed it would write an explicit policy against sexual harassment and create a dedicated channel for employees to report incidents of misconduct.

Now, according to her dismissal letter, the company, too, faces legal consequences. It did not specify a case, but Mr. Wang’s wife has said publicly that she intended to sue over his dismissal.

The letter suggested that the company had sought Ms. Zhou’s cooperation, offering to cover the cost of lawyer fees and psychological consultation. It said that she had not responded. Nor did she respond to what appeared to be an effort to negotiate her termination.

In the end, however, the company cited her original accusation as grounds for dismissal, noting an article in the company’s code of conduct: “Publishing or disseminating inappropriate remarks to the outside world, or deliberately fabricating or disseminating fictitious facts, or disseminating unconfirmed information, causing bad influence.”

Claire Fu contributed research.

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