TikTok's US employees plan to sue Trump administration over executive order

Employees say the order would bar TikTok from paying them.

Queenie Wong Former Senior Writer
Queenie Wong was a senior writer for CNET News, focusing on social media companies including Facebook's parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok. Before joining CNET, she worked for The Mercury News in San Jose and the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. A native of Southern California, she took her first journalism class in middle school.
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Queenie Wong
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TikTok, a short-form video app, is being targeted by the Trump administration because it's owned by a Chinese tech company. 

Angela Lang/CNET

TikTok's US employees are planning to file a lawsuit challenging a Trump administration executive order they say would make it illegal for their employer to pay them. 

Last week, President Donald Trump issued an executive order barring any US transactions with ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, and its subsidiaries. The language of the order is broad, so it's unclear if it would bar TikTok from paying its employees. The Trump administration didn't respond to questions about how the order would impact TikTok's employees.

The order, which would take effect Sept. 20, would effectively ban the short-form video app from operating in the US if ByteDance doesn't sell TikTok. Microsoft has acknowledged it's discussing a deal to buy TikTok's service in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Negotiations could be completed by Sept. 15, which is before the executive order's deadline. 

Mike Godwin, a prominent internet rights lawyer, said in a tweet Thursday that he's one of the attorneys working on a lawsuit against the Trump administration. 

"I believe that the U.S. government with its overbroad executive order has put employees' Constitutional rights, including the right to be paid, in jeopardy," he tweeted.

In an interview, Godwin said the executive order violated the fifth and 14th Amendments to the US Constitution, which state that no one shall be "deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law." The lawsuit could be filed by the end of next week.

"It's fundamentally a due process claim, but there are some employment law claims that also may be relevant," said Godwin, who's working with the Blackstone Law Group in New York. "We just want to make sure that we check all the boxes."

Godwin was hired by Patrick Ryan, a TikTok employee who started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $30,000 to "file an injunction so that a court can order the government to change the order so that TikTok can still pay employees." On the GoFundMe page and in a TikTok video, Ryan said the order would mean 1,500 ByteDance and TikTok employees would lose their paychecks on Sept. 20. More than $11,200 has been raised for the campaign.

TikTok is also working on a separate lawsuit against the Trump administration that's also expected to allege that the order is unconstitutional, NPR reported. The lawsuit will be filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of California, according to the report. 

TikTok said it wasn't involved in the potential employee lawsuit or coordinating activity with the group. The company added that it respects "the rights of employees to engage in concerted activity to seek due process of law."

In a blog post last week, TikTok said it was "shocked" by Trump's executive order and that the order was "issued without any due process."

The Trump administration's executive order comes after India banned TikTok and dozens of other Chinese apps over national security concerns. In the order, the Trump administration says the user data TikTok collects "threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans' personal and proprietary information -- potentially allowing China to track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage." 

TikTok has said US user data isn't stored in China and that it wouldn't turn over user data to the Chinese government even if asked to do so.

The Trump administration also issued a separate executive order that would ban messaging app WeChat in the US.

On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended the executive orders during a press briefing.

"The administration is committed to protecting the American people from all cyberthreats," she said. "These apps collect significant amounts of private data on users, and such information can be accessed and used by the People's Republic of China. TikTok has a documented history of censoring free speech to conform to Chinese Communist Party propaganda, and we take the data of Americans very seriously."

When asked about the executive orders, Trump said the US government wanted "total security."

"We don't want to have any information going into China," Trump said.

CNET's Oscar Gonzalez contributed to this report.