On Monday, the former Tinder executive and co-founder Whitney Wolfe sued the mobile dating app in Los Angeles on grounds of sexual harassment and abuse. News coverage around the suit has largely rehashed Wolfe’s accusations that the company’s chief executive Sean Rad and chief marketing officer Justin Mateen abused her verbally (with words like “annoying” “dramatic” and “whore”) only to eventually strip her of her co-founder title and force her to resign from the company. (In response to a Fortune inquiry, Wolfe declined to be interviewed.) In wake of the suit, Tinder has suspended Mateen from the company until further notice. Juicy headlines aside, is there something to be learned from Wolfe’s lawsuit against the mobile dating app?
I certainly thought so. Here are three things I picked up after reading the full complaint from Wolfe’s lawyers:
Tinder execs used Wolfe’s gender only when it suited them
It is clear from the complaint that Wolfe became the face of the company partly so Tinder could market itself as the first dating app that works for women. Articles published a year ago featuring Wolfe prominently as a key exec came under headlines like “How Tinder Solved Online Dating For Women.” Yet if you take a look at the more general business coverage of the app, Wolfe is nowhere to be found. Wolfe claims her male founders told her she wasn’t included in general business coverage because “you’re a girl.” Regardless of the reason, the news coverage speaks for itself.
‘Leaning in’ isn’t enough to disrupt tech’s old boys club
If we take Wolfe’s claims to be true, the former marketing executive tried several times to bring her harassment complaints to other senior executives. A few weeks after she was terminated, she alleges she met with Sam Yagan, the CEO of Match.com, another online dating site that is owned by the same parent company as Tinder. He didn’t feel compelled to do anything in response to her complaints and allegedly told her “I can still sleep at night.”
Part of Wolfe’s problem has nothing to do with gender at all
This is not the first time that a tech startup has thrown an integral member of the team under the bus just when the company begins to grow. Remember Facebook’s Eduardo Saverin? He was also booted from the then-startup and stripped of his co-founder role. Gender aside, it is clear that tech startups often suffer from a poorly managed office culture that more times than not hangs a few people out to dry down the road to success. Wolfe claims she lost her co-founder title because she is a woman, but my hunch is that she also fell victim to internal startup politics just like Saverin did.