In a complaint filed to the City of New York Commission on Human Rights, a former employee of the period underwear company Thinx reportedly says she was subjected to lurid and repeated sexual harassment by founder and former CEO Miki Agrawal. The complaint, reported by New York magazine’s The Cut, alleges that Agrawal groped her employees’ breasts, talked at length about her sex life, changed frequently in front of her employees and Face Timed them from the toilet and while apparently naked in bed. Agrawal recently stepped down as CEO of Thinx, after every employee was interviewed by the company’s board, but is still employed there.
The employee who filed the complaint with the city is Chelsea Leibow, a former PR professional who wrote loopy promotional emails that Jezebel celebrated last year. In December, she emailed her client list announcing she was moving on. (Tipsters still at the company informed me then that the word on the grapevine was that she was considering legal action, a speculation that Leibow politely declined to address at the time.)
Noreen Malone at The Cut reports that Leibow’s complaint describes a disturbing pattern of sexual harassment. She told Malone that Agrawal first touched her breasts soon after she started at the company:
A month or two after her arrival, however, Agrawal said she had an “obsession” with Leibow’s breasts, and “helped herself,” as Leibow put it to me last week. “I didn’t say anything to her at the time. If you’ve ever been touched without your consent, you know it’s jarring. The whole atmosphere was one of: this is fine, this isn’t a big deal.” (In the formal language of the complaint, it was Agrawal’s “generally aggressive and retaliatory demeanor, position of authority, and style of management” that made Leibow too intimidated to speak up.)
In a previous profile, Malone described Agrawal’s love of busting taboos and social boundaries, and mentioned her urinating while on the phone with a New York magazine fact-checker. Leibow alleges that her fondness for boundary-pushing extended way, way too far: talking about her sex life, her experience in an “Orgy Dome” at Burning Man, changing in front of her employees, talking to a subordinate with one breast out of her top and fully exposed. She also engaged in “fat-shaming,” anonymous Thinx employees alleged to Malone:
When employees brought up the notion of expanding Thinx’s offerings into further plus sizes due to customer demand, Agrawal replied that anyone larger than a 3X ought to go to the gym and lose weight rather than purchase new underwear, according to multiple sources. Agrawal calls the fat-shaming accusations “unfounded,” and adds that she suggested having “fruit and berries to support healthy living.”
Leibow told Malone she was fired after months of raising concerns about Agrawal’s behavior; Agrawal disputes that, telling Malone she was fired for cause. Agrawal also denied the breast-touching and other alleged misbehavior to Malone, saying that Thinx is an open and free-ranging workplace and that conversations were being taken out of context.
Last week, Racked reported extensively on employees at the company who say they were underpaid and poorly treated. (Among other things, the company had no formal maternity leave policy in place at first, a bitter irony for a progressive company staffed by women and marketed towards women’s needs.)
Agrawal rebutted the Racked story in a Medium post, essentially claiming that healthcare and other benefits slipped her mind while she was focused on the company’s growth. She added that she addressed them as soon as they were “brought up:”
All of a sudden, health insurance, vacation days, benefits and maternity leave were brought up (at the time we didn’t have any pregnant women on the team unlike now where we have 3, including me! :-)) and when you’re a start-up and you’re growing and moving so fast (remember, we’ve only really hit this crazy growth period 18 months ago), to sit down and get an HR person and think about those things were left to the bottom of the pile of things to get done. We managed to put basic policies in place, raised health insurance benefits to $300 per employee per month from $150/month immediately after our employees asked for it, (which btw for a start-up was HUGE progress and I was SO proud to offer health insurance as early as we did). We took the team to Shakespeare on Hudson for a magical team retreat weekend and we had a moment of bonding hard, which I’ll never forget.
We were told by our sources that after departing as CEO, Agrawal was given the new title “chief vision officer.” In an email to Jezebel at the time, Agrawal wrote, “There’s nothing dramatic going on, I’m still the SHE-EO & Co-Founder of THINX. Like every other startup, there’s turnover in the first few years. THINX is no different, we have growing pains too, but now we are on the right track.”
Agrawal did not respond to a followup question about the difference between a CEO and a “SHE-EO.”
Two former employees I spoke to earlier this month—both women asked for anonymity to protect their job prospects—called her mercurial and difficult to work for.
“None of us wanted to leave,” one said, noting that ten people have quit in the last two months, out of a staff of little more than 30. “We loved our jobs. We loved what we did. We loved the company. She just made it impossible. She led by her mood on any given day.”
Neither Agrawal nor a Thinx PR person immediately responded to a request for comment from Jezebel. Leibow declined to comment.
Also—and I’m just saying—Thinx don’t work for shit.
Update, March 21:
A Thinx spokesperson responds:
We take matters related to our company culture very seriously, and we are taking action to make meaningful improvements. Miki Agrawal is no longer CEO, and we are working to put new leadership and policies in place so we can continue to grow and thrive. To support this effort, we have hired an executive search firm to assist in the recruitment of a new CEO. We are also hiring a human resources executive and, in the interim, have engaged a human resources professional who is working in our offices to support our progress. We will update our community when there is more to share.
Related to Ms. Leibow’s allegations, THINX has not been served with a legal complaint or charge from any agency. When the issues were brought to our attention following Ms. Leibow’s departure from THINX, the company commissioned an investigation that concluded the allegations had no legal merit. The company cannot comment further on these legal matters.
We’ve asked who participated in Thinx’s internal investigation and how they concluded the allegations had no “legal merit” and will update if we hear back.
Update, March 21:
Employees alleged to both Jezebel and Racked that several positive reviews about Thinx on the employment website Glassdoor were written by Agrawal or at her direction, to counter negative reviews calling her things like “unprofessional” and “a bully.”
In the New York piece, Agrawal denied that, and claimed she was going to find out who’d written the reviews, using her friendship with someone at Glassdoor:
She denied leaving her own Glassdoor review. “I know the founder of Glassdoor, and I’m working on getting the IP addresses of everyone who left reviews,” she told me.
A Glassdoor representative tells us that claim is false, and that several Thinx reviews are being examined after being flagged by users:
Glassdoor reviews on Thinx have been flagged by an official employer representative and employee(s). This is not uncommon as anyone, any time can flag reviews for any employer. (We now have ~650K companies on Glassdoor). Any time this happens, we do further review to ensure the review meets our guidelines and doesn’t indicate abuse. Employees also have the ability to amend or delete reviews any time and some Thinx reviewers have done so. Claims that we were asked for user identities is just false. We go to great lengths and expense to protect our user identities and right to anonymous free speech.
Glassdoor is also responding to the claims on Twitter: