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“Consensual Cuddling” Is a Disgusting Excuse for Tinder’s Alleged Sexual Harassment Coverup

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The co-founders of Tinder and eight other former executives are suing the dating app’s current owners over issues stemming from an instance of sexual harassment and assault.

According to the suit and statements made to CNN, Tinder’s vice president of marketing and communications, Rosette Pambakian, says she was harassed and groped by Greg Blatt at a company holiday party held at a Los Angeles hotel, right after he had been named CEO. Pambakian says he told her, “I get hard every time I look at you,” and asked her to leave with him.

“In that moment, I thought, ‘My boss actually thinks I’m going home with him,'” she told CNN. “I basically bolted, found two people I knew, and said, ‘Hey, let’s go up to your room.'” They went up to one of the rooms the company had booked, but Blatt showed up soon after. According to Pambakian and others who were there, Blatt walked in, didn’t say anything to anyone, pushed her back onto the bed she was sitting on, and started kissing and groping her.’

When this was finally investigated by the company, it was deemed an instance of “consensual cuddling.”

First of all, from the way Pambakian describes it, that’s clearly not the case. Second, even if it were consensual, this kind of aggressive behavior from the CEO of a company towards a subordinate employee is, at best, inappropriate and, at worst, never actually able to be consensual. The power dynamic there is so far out of whack that this should never have happened, even if he did genuinely think she was interested—which, from her description, is hard to believe is actually the case.

Making this all even more horrible is the fact that Pambakian didn’t want to report what happened for a lot of the common reasons (she feared backlash, she didn’t want this to define her and overshadow her work, etc.) but also because, as she puts it, her job “as Tinder’s head of communications was to protect the company and make sure we were always portrayed positively in the press.”

News of what happened at the holiday party did start getting around, though, and since Pambakian reported directly to Blatt, she went to executives at Tinder’s parent company, Match Group. She says multiple Match and IAC (Match’s parent company) executives apologized to her, but she was never questioned in any sort of investigation, which was said to be led by Match’s board of directors. Guess who serves as the chairman of that board. Yup, Blatt.

To sum up, Blatt, the CEO of Tinder, allegedly groped and harassed a woman whose job it is to make sure the company doesn’t get bad press, then was put in charge of his own investigation. I don’t think you will be shocked to hear that the investigation revealed nothing and very quietly went away. Whether it was related or not, shortly after all of this, Blatt did resign with a “golden parachute” severance package worth “hundreds of millions of dollars.” No press that I can find mentioned anything negative about him at all when reporting on his resignation.

But as I said at the start, the lawsuit is over issues stemming from that incident. Pambakian is a part of the lawsuit, but its major thrust, and why the other nine former executives and founders are involved, is over what they claim amounted to a coverup of Blatt’s alleged abuse, designed to deny early employees billions of dollars in stock options.

At the time this all happened, Tinder was undergoing an analysis to determine the value of its stock options. The plaintiffs in the case are arguing that the company didn’t do anything about Blatt because he was a key player in that valuation, which these executives were trying to manipulate in order to pay those early employees a total of about $2 billion less in stock options—meaning the company didn’t do anything about its allegedly abusive CEO and board chairman because that would have messed up their reported plans to screw over other employees.

Pambakian says Blatt’s behavior wasn’t an isolated incident. She says there is ongoing “pervasive sexual harassment and misogyny by Match executives.” She describes one executive calling a female colleague a “bathroom bang” at a party. She says that same executive called it “strategic” that a woman wore a skirt on the day she asked for a raise, and made lewd comments about her.

When Pambakian requested a budget for activities to boost company morale, Blatt replied (via another executive, meaning multiple people thought this was an acceptable thing to say out loud) that a budget wasn’t necessary because she and two other women on the team were “company morale.” They also specifically said another woman on the team wasn’t included on that list because she had “peaked.”

Pambakian isn’t the only one to describe the open, rampant sexism at Tinder and Match. One of the other plaintiffs in this case was also accused by an employee of sexual harassment in 2014. Another source detailed being hit on by that same “bathroom bang” exec, who was her superior, at a company happy hour. When she turned him down, he allegedly said she was “unattractive” and looked like a “Russian prostitute.”

It would be nice if any of those instances were seen as enough reason to bring a very public, expensive lawsuit against this company, rather than a bunch of men (8 of the 10 plaintiffs in this suit are men) being cheated out of money, but at least these issues are finally being addressed. Pambakian—who has not quit her job at Tinder because she says she “won’t let other people’s misconduct dictate [her] future”—says she finally came forward because she doesn’t want to see the women on her team go through what she experienced. “I absolutely cannot allow them to be subjected to the things I experienced,” she told CNN.

“Why should I be the one to leave my job that I love when I did nothing wrong?” she said. “Why is it that the men responsible for this type of behavior are allowed to quietly resign with a hefty severance package while no one is the wiser? Why are they being protected while I fear for my future and reputation for blowing the whistle?”

(image: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.