Add Tinder to the list of hot social media startups that booted one of its co-founders on the road to riches. However, this dismissal reeks of sexism, misogyny and racism, according to a lawsuit filed by Whitney Wolfe, the company’s former vice president of marketing.
The 19-page complaint filed by Wolfe’s attorneys in Los Angeles Superior Court this week alleges that Tinder co-founders Justin Mateen and Sean Rad subjected Wolfe to “horrendously sexist, racist and otherwise inappropriate comments, emails and text messages.”
Wolfe alleges that Mateen, whom she dated from February to November 2013, stripped her of the co-founder title because her age (24) and gender (female) “makes the company look like a joke” and it “devalues the company.” Dozens of pages of text messages between Mateen and Wolfe included in the complaint make for a depressing read, but they were deemed scathing enough to prompt Tinder’s majority owner IAC to suspend Mateen’s involvement in the hookup app.
“Immediately upon receipt of the allegations contained in Ms. Wolfe’s complaint, Mr. Mateen was suspended pending an ongoing internal investigation,” IAC writes in a statement. “Through that process, it has become clear that Mr. Mateen sent private message 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.”
The Breaking Point
Wolfe claims she reached a breaking point in April at a company party in Malibu where she was subjected to derogatory and demeaning name-calling by Mateen in the presence of CEO Sean Rad and others. When she complained to Rad the following day and tried to make yet another attempt to put an end to the harassment, Rad “bullied” her into resigning, according to the suit.
“In the days that followed, Ms. Wolfe, completely beaten down by the many months of outrageous abuse she had suffered at Tinder, submitted a resignation letter that explicitly cited the abusive treatment as the reason for her no longer working at the company,” the suit alleges.
Tinder’s parent companies IAC and Match.com are also named as defendants in the suit, which seeks compensatory damages, including restitution, lost pay and punitive damages.
With a storyline that makes perfect fodder for TMZ, the complaint concludes that the behavior of Tinder’s senior executives represented “the worst of the misogynist, alpha-male stereotype too often associated with technology startups.”
With such serious allegations being made of Mateen, and IAC already admitting to the validity of the deplorable text messages he sent to Wolfe, it’s hard to see any circumstance that justifies Mateen’s return to the company.
If the allegations are true, Tinder and its executives are fostering a casual, highly sexualized culture that one might expect from a red-hot app designed to facilitate hookups. There’s no way for the company to get around that fact with its founders facing allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination.
Still despite all the bad press and jaw-dropping reactions to these allegations, there’s nothing to suggest that this will force any material change for Tinder’s business or its quasi-celebrity executives. For better or worse, users just don’t seem to care about the personal lives of the heavily funded entrepreneurs that operate incredibly popular apps like Tinder.
Tinder is still growing like a weed. By the end of February, the company was processing an average of 750 million swipes and 10 million matches per day. At the time, the average user was spending 60 minutes per day on the app, according to Rad.
That’s a lot of 16- to 30-somethings hoping for a new romantic relationship or one-night stand as they swipe left or right on an app.
Fallout Will be Tame
If there is to be any eventual fallout for Tinder from these allegations, it will most likely fall into the void of perception over reality. Mateen’s time at the company may be coming to an end, but such an outcome would provide the perfect scapegoat and distraction for Tinder to continue full steam ahead.
One doesn’t have to look far for similarities. In fact, just 13 miles west of Tinder’s headquarters a much larger and heavily scrutinized social app is overcoming a series a damning and misogynistic emails penned by its CEO five years ago. Snapchat’s co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel quickly owned up to the leaked emails from his fraternity days at Stanford University, adding that he was a “jerk” to have written the emails and that “they in no way reflect who I am today or my views towards women.”
There are some major differences between the wrongdoings of Spiegel and Mateen, however. Spiegel was 19 when he wrote emails that he is now “mortified and embarrassed” over, whereas the 28-year-old Mateen stands accused of verbally abusing a former girlfriend and subordinate in his capacity as Tinder’s chief marketing officer.
This puts the travails of mixing business and pleasure on full public display at Tinder. But don’t expect much to change for the company itself, even if some executives are shown the door. People still want to find new ways to hookup and Tinder is one of the best apps today fulfilling that desire.
Matt Kapko has been writing about technology since before the dawn of the iPhone, and covering media well before it was social. Matt lives with his wife in a nearly century-old craftsman in Long Beach, Calif. He can be reached on Twitter: @mattkapko or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.