Mobile dating app startup Tinder announced Tuesday that it had suspended one of its top executives and co-founders, Justin Mateen, after a former employee filed a lawsuit claiming that Mateen had sexually harassed and threatened her.
The lawsuit was brought Monday by Whitney Wolfe, the company’s former vice president of marketing. Wolfe alleges that, among other things, Tinder executives discriminated against her based on her gender by revoking her co-founder status because having a 24-year old “girl” co-founder “makes the company seem like a joke.” Mateen and Wolfe had a romantic relationship, but when the relationship ended, the lawsuit alleges that Mateen repeatedly harassed Wolfe verbally, threatened her job and called her a "whore."
In a statement, Tinder denied Wolfe’s allegations "with respect to Tinder and its management," according to Tech Crunch. But citing the "inappropriate" text messages included in the lawsuit, Tinder said it was launching an internal investigation.
Here are some of the most surprising allegations:
1. The co-founder debate
Wolfe’s suit claims that she was a central figure in Tinder’s formation. Without her, the suit states, “there would likely have been no Tinder --- at least not on the scale it exists at today.”
— Harper's Bazaar UK (@BazaarUK) October 30, 2013
Though Wolfe was featured in several news organizations as a “co-founder,” and Tinder chief executive Sean Rad referred to her as a co-founder in text messages, Wolfe said that in November 2013, the title was revoked:
When she would ask why only her name of the five founders was absent they would tell her “you’re a girl.” They stated that they couldn't include her name in the business press, because it “makes the company look like it was an accident.” According to Mr. Mateen “a girl founder,” who at the time was 24, devalued the company. They also said five founders looked like “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Given their misogyny, it is not surprising that the sole female on the team was the one who was excluded from the business press.
2. Six-month ban on dating
When Mateen and Wolfe ended their relationship, the lawsuit alleges that Mateen told Wolfe to stay away from other men for six months:
Despite her clear intentions in breaking up with him, Mr. Mateen instructed Ms. Wolfe to be “a good girl” and stay away from other men for a period of six months during which time he would evaluate her to determine whether she was “worthy” of being with him, or whether she was the “slut” that he considered her to be before she met him.
3. Alleged harassment after a family vacation to Aspen
Wolfe claims in the lawsuit that Mateen repeatedly harassed her for talking to other men during a family trip to Aspen by sending text messages like this one, included in the suit:
4. Slurs against “Muslim men”
According to Wolfe's suit, Mateen was allegedly also upset that she had spent time with Muslim men:
5. Sexist name-calling
In a particularly disturbing allegation, Wolfe claims that Mateen called her a "whore" during a company party, in the presence of Tinder CEO Rad. Also during that party someone, a guest of Rad's, allegedly spat in her face:
When she eventually asked him what was wrong, Mr. Mateen responded: “You’re a whore.” He accused her of being with a boy and insisted he knew all about what her “disgusting self had been up to.” He said this in front of Mr. Rad. He went on call her “a gold digger,” and “a disease” and “disgusting.” As Ms. Wolfe began to head toward the exit, she was accosted by Mr. Rad’s guest at the party who spat in her face. This was witnessed by Ms. Wilson. Mr. Mateen went on to ask Ms. Wilson if it were true, referring to Ms. Wolfe and her possible involvement with another man. Mr. Mateen’s younger brother repeatedly accused Ms. Wolfe of not being “a good girl.”
6. Ignored complaints
Throughout all of this, Wolfe claims that she reported Mateen's behavior to Rad, who allegedly did nothing:
While CEO Rad did acknowledge that “Justin is nuts” when Ms. Wolfe once again complained to him, he would ultimately either ignore her pleas for help or call her a dramatic or emotional girl. Mr. Rad also told her if she was unable to “disengage” it would be her fault, not Mr. Mateen’s.