Tinder faces sexual harassment lawsuit by previous employee and cofounder Whitney Wolfe
By: Jenna Wortham
Whitney Wolfe, a former executive at the popular dating start-up Tinder, has filed a lawsuit against the company, along with its majority owner, IAC/InterActiveCorp, on sexual harassment and discrimination claims.
The lawsuit, filed on Monday in state court in Los Angeles, says that Tinder’s chief executive and chief marketing officer subjected Ms. Wolfe to “a barrage of horrendously sexist, racist and otherwise inappropriate comments, emails and text messages.” Ms. Wolfe’s suit also said that complaints about the harassment to high-level executives at IAC were ignored and that she was forced to resign as a result.
Ms. Wolfe said in the lawsuit that even though she was instrumental in the establishment of the dating app, her colleagues did not call her a founder because of her age and gender. When she would ask why only her name among the five founders was absent from some news coverage, the lawsuit said, the other founders would tell her “you’re a girl” and that a 24-year-old “girl founder” would devalue the company.
“Here you have the story of a woman who was a founder and an integral part of the company’s success and even within that, she was still subjected to atrocious sexist behavior, behind company doors,” said David Lowe, one of the lawyers representing Ms. Wolfe.
A representative for IAC, an Internet company based in New York, Matthew Traub, said in a statement that the company believed Ms. Wolfe’s accusations were “unfounded.”
However, Mr. Traub said the company was conducting an internal investigation, which so far has confirmed that Justin Mateen, the chief marketing officer, sent private messages containing inappropriate content to Ms. Wolfe. The company put him on suspension as a result, Mr. Traub said.
The technology industry at large has been roiled by sexual harassment and discrimination cases.
Reports of hostility toward women have emerged from big-name venture capital firms, including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, as well as sizable companies like Github, a company based in San Francisco. This year, Valleywag, a technology blog, published profanity-riddled emails sent by the chief executive of Snapchat, another booming start-up, ridiculing and making demeaning remarks about women.
And Silicon Valley of late has faced criticism over a lack of diversity among its ranks, which are overwhelmingly white and male. Facebook, for example, recently disclosed that just 31 percent of its 6,500 workers worldwide were women, and in its United States offices, more than half of all employees are white.
Tinder was first introduced as a free dating app that let users swipe through profiles of prospective partners. It was a quick hit, and the company is reportedly valued around $500 million, according to CB Insights, a venture capital research firm. Tinder does not publicize how many people use the app, but the company said it made more than 10 million matches each day.
Ashe Dryden, a programmer and an advocate for workplace diversity, said that complaints like the one lobbied against Tinder are all too common in the technology industry and are indicative of a deeper, troubled culture.
“These incidents reflect what we see at every level — the continual dismissal of women’s competence, the overt sexualized atmosphere we see both online and off, the aggressive hyper-masculinity that is often rewarded and idolized by other men,” she said via email.
IAC increased its stake in the Los Angeles-based Tinder this year, bringing its total holding to more than 50 percent. It also owns a number of prominent start-ups and companies, including Vimeo, a YouTube rival, CollegeHumor, a humor site, and other dating sites including OKCupid and Chemistry.com. Barry Diller, the billionaire media mogul, was chairman and chief executive of IAC from 1995 to 2010, and now serves as the company’s chairman and senior executive.
Mr. Lowe said that Ms. Wolfe was seeking lost compensation and the recovery of her equity, which he says was worth millions of dollars at the time she left the company. But the primary purpose of the lawsuit, said Mr. Lowe, “is to make sure that her role as a woman leader in the company isn’t erased from history.”