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Female co-founder stripped of co-founder status, called a whore and slut, and ultimately fired
Another white hot tech startup has been slapped with a sexual harassment lawsuit that alleges everything from name-calling and threatening texts to sociopathic excising of a co-founder by someone who joined the team long after she had.
Round these parts we call that Tuesday.
Everybody, give a big hand to Tinder, which has become the latest—if least surprising—frat bro tech company to be named in a sexual harassment lawsuit. The suit has been brought forth by co-founder and former VP of marketing Whitney Wolfe, who alleges some seriously messed up shit—and has the text messages to prove it.
The charges center primarily on CMO and co-founder Justin Mateen, who Wolfe accuses of harassing her and calling her “whore” and “slut”—even doing so in front of CEO Sean Rad, on occasion. Eventually, Mateen—who joined the company after Wolfe—stripped Wolfe of her co-founder title because having a young female co-founder “makes the company seem like a joke” and “devalues” the company.
Meanwhile, Wolfe contends, she was the driving force behind the company pivot away from customer loyalty rewards app Cardify to what was then called Matchbox—a dating/hookup app that she insisted would be much more popular on college campuses. While the rest of the company, including Sean Rad, were focused on Cardify, Wolfe made the case that she could market Matchbox much more efficiently and it was sure to be a much bigger hit.
Eventually, Rad and the rest of the team were won over. The name “Matchbox” was too close to Match.com, however, and Wolfe suggested “Tinder,” which had obvious relevance to a dating app.
While Wolfe was flying around the company, visiting college campuses and growing the app’s user base—specifically targeting sororities to get more women on the app (since dating apps are almost always awful for women), Sean Rad invited long-time friend Justin Mateen to join the startup. Mateen was named CMO—for some reason—which made him Wolfe’s direct supervisor. He promptly pursued a relationship with her and things went south fast.
Shortly after their breakup, Mateen stripped Wolfe of her co-founder status, arguing that “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders, it just makes it look like Tinder was some accident.” The company had already been absenting Wolfe from the co-founder team when they spoke with traditional business publications like Forbes.
When Wolfe protested, both Mateen and Sean Rad allegedly told Wolfe that she would accept their decision or be fired.
In the months that followed, the harassment became worse. Wolfe claims that Mateen berated her in front of other team members, calling her “slut,” “whore,” “a joke,” and began spreading rumors about her to other team members. At one point, after Mateen and Rad had been having several disagreements about the company, Mateen lashed out at Wolfe and accused her of “destroying the balance of power” between him and Rad. The confrontation was aggressive enough that an onlooker from an apartment behind Tinder’s office intervened and told Mateen to stop.
During this time, Wolfe says that while Rad acknowledged that Mateen “is nuts,” her pleas for help went unanswered, or he called her “dramatic” or “emotional,” and told her that if she couldn’t disengage with Mateen then it was her fault, not Mateen’s.
Ugh. God. This shit just gets so much worse.
At one point, at a company party, Mateen allegedly called Wolfe a “gold digger,” a “disease” and “disgusting”—in front of other people, including Sean Rad. When Wolfe headed for the exit, a guest of Rad’s went after her and spit in her face.
Spit. In. Her. Face.
Wolfe wrote a letter of resignation, citing months of abuse as her reason for leaving. Recognizing the danger of such a letter getting out, Rad told her to write a new letter omitting the charges of abuse.
Wolfe says she later went to Match.com CEO Sam Yagan (Match.com was working with Tinder) and related the story of abuse and harassment—having her co-founder status removed and being called a whore in front of the other team members. By the time she finished telling the story, Wolfe says she was in tears, but Yagan remained impassive, told her he didn’t feel compelled to do anything, and said that the complaint didn’t bother him. “I can still sleep at night,” he told her.
Match.com is a co-defendant named in the suit.
Tinder has not responded to email inquiries from VatorNews, but the company has suspended Justin Mateen in light of the truly awful, abusive texts that have become public.
Tinder issued the following statement to TechCrunch:
Immediately upon receipt of the allegations contained in Ms. Wolfe’s complaint, Mr. Mateen was suspended pending an ongoing internal investigation. Through that process, it has become clear that Mr. Mateen sent private messages to Ms. Wolfe containing inappropriate content. We unequivocally condemn these messages, but believe that Ms. Wolfe’s allegations with respect to Tinder and its management are unfounded.
So a few things are clear: Tinder’s CMO is an abusive freak (as evidenced by his texts), CEO Sean Rad knew about the abuse and fired Whitney Wolfe without severance pay over it, Match.com CEO Sam Yagan may or may not have known the abuse was going on and it “didn’t bother him,” and there isn’t a pervasive culture of misogyny in the tech world—it’s just that women don’t like computers.
Happy Tuesday, guys. Everyone is awful.
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