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The Co-Founder of Thinx Has Been Accused of Sexual Harassment by a Former Employee

Thinx, the company that makes period-safe underwear, found itself in the spotlight in 2015 as a dispute raged over whether or not the company’s New York City subway ads were “inappropriate.” Now Thinx is back in the news as a former employee has accused co-founder and former CEO, Miki Agrawal, of sexual harassment and of perpetuating a toxic workplace culture.

Chelsea Leibow, the former head of public relations for Thinx, filed a complaint last week with the City of New York Commission on Human Rights which detailed the numerous ways that Agrawal had acted inappropriately during Leibow’s time with the company, New York Magazine reported. According to Leibow, Agrawal routinely commented on employees’ breasts, even going so far as to ask to see them. “I felt that Miki objectified my body when she declared that she was ‘obsessed’ with it and made very detailed comments about my breasts, and it also seemed like a way for Miki to assert her dominance over female employees by simply doing whatever she wanted to do without asking, and showing she could get away with it,” Leibow told New York.

Agrawal also frequently detailed her own sexual exploits, changed in front of employees and held video conferences from her bedroom or bathroom in various states of undress. The complaint also describes a workplace atmosphere in which Agrawal had no problem making ageist or fat-shaming comments and where employees were afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation from the CEO. With no human resources manager on staff (a relatively common practice for start-ups, to keep costs down), Leibow felt that there wasn’t anyone to turn to. And when she finally did voice her complaints last December, she was fired from the company.

But Leibow was not alone in feeling uncomfortable, as it turns out. “It honestly felt like a middle school environment: pitting people against each other, calling us petty children and [saying that we were] immature and that we're all these millennials that don't know anything — meanwhile we're being paid easily $30,000 under industry standard salaries,” one former employee told Racked. According to Jezebel, 10 people out of the approximately 35 employees at Thinx have quit. And when the board held interviews with employees to hear opinions and complaints about Agrawal in February, there were so many questions and comments that not everyone was able to speak.

 

Essentials for a cramps-are-so-bad-I'm-workin'-from-home day 

A post shared by THINX (@shethinx) on

Not long before Leibow filed her complaint, Agrawal stepped down as CEO and was given the new title of “Chief Vision Officer.” But, according to Agrawal herself, “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.” The company is now looking for a more experienced CEO to oversee their growth.

The apparently toxic atmosphere of Thinx seems to directly undercut the company’s commitment to supporting women across the world. In January, Agrawal helped launch the Thinx Foundation, a nonprofit which aims to provide education and menstrual products to girls in India and Sri Lanka. Agrawal has also been vocal about destigmatizing periods, saying “My favorite thing to talk about are the things you’re not supposed to talk about.” The trouble, of course, is when those things happen to be your employee’s nipple piercings. “You'll meet people who just idolize her,” says a former employee. “And it's really hard because you don't want to ruin their perception of her. They like her! And I want Thinx to succeed even though I'm not there anymore. But it is kind of hard to hear people be like, 'She's my feminist hero!' when I've seen her call a former employee a ‘bitch’ before in a meeting.”

Sydney Post is a Los Angeles native who moved east to Boston for college and stayed, despite the snow (or possibly because of it). She holds a BA in English from Tufts University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. When not writing, reading, or generally spending time around books, she can be found working on her cooking skills, being excited about dogs, and generally doing her best to be an adult.
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