A female student at a college in Minnesota is suing the billionaire behind one of China’s top e-commerce sites, claiming sexual assault, battery, and false imprisonment, among other charges. On the heels of reports that JD.com founder Richard Liu was arrested in Minneapolis in late August in connection with rape allegations, and released a few hours later (and permitted to return to China), Mr. Liu and the $43 billion JD.com have been named as defendants in a new lawsuit filed in a Minnesota state court by the alleged victim, an unrelated Ms. Jingyao Liu.
According to 21-year old Ms. Liu’s complaint, the JD.com founder and CEO was visiting the University of Minnesota as part of a doctoral business administration program that caters to high-level executives from China when he forced himself onto her. “Defendant Liu was physically larger in size and significantly stronger than the plaintiff and used his superior size and strength to subdue and rape her,” the complaint asserts.
JD.com – which is China’s second-largest e-commerce company after Alibaba – is also named as a defendant, with the complaint asserting that the company is “vicariously liable” for Mr. Liu’s behavior. In accordance with the legal doctrine, a “supervisory party,” such as a company, may be liable for the misconduct of its employees if they are acting within the scope of their employment. According to the complaint, JD.com is on the hook here since Mr. Liu was “seemingly” engaged in work-related activities leading up to the alleged assault.
Ms. Liu asserts that JD.com comes into the fold, legally speaking, as the alleged rape followed from a networking event organized and hosted by Mr. Liu and paid for by JD.com. More than that, the suit claims that the beginning stages of Mr. Liu’s misconduct took place at that event when Mr. Liu “pressured” her to drink, and in the presence of two other JD.com employees, Vivian Yang Han and Alice Zhang Yujia, who, the suit argues, “were not only present but helped facilitate” the assault.
Still yet, Ms. Liu claims that the JD.com CEO used a company car to transport her back to her apartment, where she says she was raped, an assertion aimed at bolstering the argument that the company should be held responsible, in part, for the legal foul play.
It is worth noting that employers are rarely found to liable for rape perpetrated by employees, in large part because sexual assault is generally very far outside of the scope of any employment and not perpetrated at the director of an employer.
Ms. Liu’s suit comes after Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman announced in December that following an investigation, state prosecutors would not charge Mr. Liu, 46, as there are “profound evidentiary problems which would [make] it highly unlikely that any criminal charge could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Jill Brisbois, an attorney for Mr. Liu said in response to the lawsuit’s filing, “We feel strongly that this suit is without merit and will vigorously defend against it." Peter Walsh, a lawyer representing JD.com, said in a statement that he will "vigorously defend these meritless claims against the company."
In addition to serving as the acting CEO of JD.com, Mr. Liu is a board member of FarFetch, a role he assumed after JD.com invested $397 million in the fashion e-commerce site, making the Chinese giant one of the largest shareholders of the Jose Nevas-founded company. The news of Mr. Liu’s arrest last summer came just a few weeks ahead of FarFetch’s debut on the New York Stock Exchange, an IPO that valued the company at roughly $6.2 billion.