A tech CEO who was fired from San Francisco-based Tradeshift for sexual assault allegations and is now being sued by a former employee who claims she was held in a sex “slave contract” says the allegations amount to defamation for personal financial gain.
The assistant leveled stunning claims in a lawsuit filed Thursday about her tenure under former CEO Christian Lanng, claiming that company human resources staff, co-founders and members of its board directors knew of what she describes as "rape, sexual abuse, torture and assault ... occurring within the course and scope of her employment" before firing her. She further alleges she was held in “a dark abyss of unwanted sexual horror” at the cloud-based supply-chain software firm.
The assistant, identified only as Jane Doe, reported to Lanng and said she felt "shocked and frightened" by a document he gave her several months after joining the company. The document, attached in the lawsuit which was first reported by the San Jose Mercury News, lays out terms for a "24/7 slave relationship" requiring submission, recognizing no boundaries, as well as requiring sexual availability, the wearing of a collar, physical bondage restraints, inflicting physical pain on her by various means, urinating on her and routinely penetrating her person with foreign objects.
The suit includes a lengthy bullet-point list of commands under the heading “Slave’s Rules.” The list includes three subheadings, “Always,” “In Private or wearing her Slave Collar,” and “At work.” The rules list a secrecy clause, requiring that "if the relationship is discovered at work, the slave will deny everything and quit her job."
In October, Lanng denied the allegations against him to TechCrunch. When asked Tuesday for a statement, Lanng shared a statement through a representative that called the lawsuit’s claims defamatory and “not reflective of my past relationship with the plaintiff,” adding that Tradeshift never condoned or concealed sexual harassment claims.
“In 2014, I made the grave error of judgment to hire someone I was dating and with whom I was engaged in a consensual sexual relationship,” Lanng said through a public relations firm. “While this did not constitute a violation of Tradeshift’s human resources policies, it was irresponsible to employ someone with whom I was romantically involved.”
Lanng added that the hiring of a lover was “a foolish mistake that I will not repeat.”
“The plaintiff went on to work for Tradeshift for approximately five more years after our relationship ended, rising in the ranks, outside of my purview, through a series of promotions as Tradeshift grew from a dozen employees to over 1,000 across multiple cities around the world. Her position was eliminated during one of several rounds of layoffs Tradeshift has unfortunately had to undergo,” Lanng added.
“Words cannot adequately express how disheartening it is that a highly distorted version of the extremely intimate details of a private consensual sexual relationship is now not only in the public domain but also being used to defame me for personal financial gain. This is a cynical and callous affront to victims of sexual violence and human trafficking.”
‘Terminated With No Explanation’
In a Lanng-rented apartment described as not far from company headquarters, the suit further alleges he carried out acts of bondage, restraint, degradation and penetration by foreign objects.
Outside the apartment, while earning awards and promotions on the job, she endured attacks, including an episode where Lanng allegedly "insisted that if she was going to work at Tradeshift, Plaintiff would have to remain his slave."
After years of the alleged conduct, including travels to foreign countries she describes as trafficking under color of work duties, the assistant says she told the company's human resources department, two company co-founders and its board. In response, she says she was "ignored, isolated, marginalized and ultimately terminated with no explanation over the phone," leaving her "bedridden and in a precarious psychological state for almost two years."
The lawsuit adds that company leadership knew of the conduct as far back as December 2019 but did not want to jeopardize sought-after outside investment and hoped to deny the firm might face litigation that could affect that investment. It also alludes to a May 2022 settlement agreement between Lanng and the assistant, which the lawsuit said is mentioned in a September termination letter Lanng received.
The assistant, who says she was fired in 2020 during a call with a former Tradeshift human resources leader, claims she required "years of medical, psychotherapeutic and psychiatric care," forcing her to sell assets that would have appreciated if held, and "bears numerous scars and bodily damage, remnants from the actual, physical sexual torture" from Lanng. Accordingly, she seeks restitution, damages and lost wages.
Tradeshift announced Lanng's separation from the company in October, saying that its "newly constituted board and management team became aware of serious allegations of sexual assault and harassment" before dismissing Lanng "for gross misconduct on multiple grounds, including the allegations above, and formal steps commenced to remove him from the board."
A spokesperson reached for comment Tuesday said Tradeshift "denies the allegations in the claim insofar as they are made against the company" and referred The Standard to its prior separation statement.