Although several people at the forefront of the dating app that’s been sweeping cellphones across America would have you believe women had nothing to do with the creation of Tinder, the truth may be that there was a mistreated woman behind the scenes all along.
It seems co-founder Justin Mateen may have had a great deal to do with concealing the fact that Whitney Wolfe, the former vice president of marketing at Tinder, was a crucial part of the startup team. Now it seems his allegedly sexist tendencies (Wolfe says in the lawsuit that Mateen called her a “whore” and consistently harassed her at the workplace), as well as jealous fits have gotten him suspended from the company, though majority stockholder IAC claims “that Ms. Wolfe’s allegations with respect to Tinder and its management are unfounded.”
Sadly, as Slate’s Amanda Hess points out, such possible examples of blatant misogyny are not uncommon in the tech world.
A February GQ profile of Tinder identifies only Mateen, Tinder CEO Sean Rad, and app engineer Jonathan Badeen as the company’s co-founders. Wolfe, meanwhile, is painted as something of a sorority whisperer, the 24-year-old woman tasked with signing up “hot sorority girls” for the service, then enticing men with their alluring photos. But in the suit, Wolfe argues that she was integral to Tinder’s success from its infancy. She says she “aggressively” lobbied Rad to “shift the focus of the group” away from mobile commerce app Cardify and onto its dating platform, coined the name Tinder, and cooked up the initial marketing plan for shopping the app to communities of high-status college students. By late 2012, Wolfe says, she was acknowledged as a co-founder in internal company meetings and communications, and “routinely held out as the face of the company” to mine “positive press” for the app.
It was around then that Mateen joined Tinder as its CMO and as Wolfe’s direct supervisor. Soon, the suit says, Mateen began pursuing a romantic relationship with Wolfe; when their relationship turned rocky, Wolfe says that she had to contend with both sexual harassment from Mateen and belittling behavior from Rad. Mateen, Wolfe says, called her a “whore,” a “gold digger,” and a “disease” at a company party, threatened to fire her if she didn’t continue a romantic relationship with him, and routinely sexually harassed her on the clock. After reporting the behavior to Rad, Wolfe says that she was told it was her job to “keep Justin calm.”
Meanwhile, when “Tinder-related articles appeared in more traditional business outlets, Wolfe’s name was often nowhere to be seen,” the suit claims. “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.’ ” Worse, showcasing “a female co-founder of Tinder” looked “slutty,’” the suit claims Mateen told her. When one publication proposed a profile of Wolfe, the suit claims that Mateen said Wolfe was only interesting to journalists as a potential sex partner. Ultimately, Wolfe says, she was bullied into resigning from Tinder.