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Accused of sexual assault, former Tinder CEO sues his accuser for defamation

Tinder
Tinder co-founder Sean Rad, left, with former Match Group CEO Greg Blatt, center, and OkCupid co-founder Sam Yagan. Blatt says in a defamation suit against Rad that Rad is using a sexual harassment claim by another former Tinder executive to discredit him in a lawsuit over Tinder’s valuation.
(Andrew Burton / Getty Images)

In August, a former vice president at Tinder filed a lawsuit alleging that Greg Blatt, the onetime chief executive of Tinder and its parent companies Match Group and IAC, sexually harassed and assaulted her at a company Christmas party in 2016.

On Thursday, Blatt filed a defamation suit against his accuser, Rosette Pambakian, and against Tinder’s co-founder and former CEO Sean Rad, alleging that the sexual battery accusations are part of a smear campaign designed to give Rad and Pambakian leverage in a separate multibillion-dollar legal battle over the value of Tinder stock.

“Rad and Pambakian have attempted to weaponize an important social movement,” the defamation suit alleges, “undermining the plight of true victims of sexual abuse by making false accusations in cynical pursuit of a $2 billion windfall.”

Orin Snyder, an attorney for Pambakian and Rad, called Blatt’s suit “a new low for IAC/Match and their former CEO. They continue to retaliate against and smear a victim of sexual assault and the person who reported it. Their attacks are based on lies and documents that are taken out of context. When all of the evidence comes to light, it will be obvious what happened here. It’s shameful that these public companies are continuing to cover up the truth.”

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A spokeswoman for Match Group said neither the company nor its parent is a party to Blatt’s suit.

Pambakian’s August suit painted a picture of a drunken Blatt making unwanted advances over the course of the party at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, culminating in an incident in a hotel room, with other Tinder employees present, in which Blatt allegedly pinned Pambakian to a bed and began “forcibly groping [Pambakian’s] breasts and upper thighs, and kissing her shoulders, neck and chest.”

Blatt’s defamation suit, filed in U.S. District Court in California, presents a different account of that evening. According to Blatt, he and Pambakian flirted over the course of the party, culminating in a consensual kiss in a hotel room. The suit argues that Blatt and Pambakian had a close and mutually admiring relationship both before and after the holiday party, saying “a flurry of friendly messages exchanged the next morning between Pambakian and Blatt in which they joked about their hangovers belie Pambakian’s assertion that she believed she had been assaulted by Blatt just hours earlier.”

Noting that Pambakian herself never formally reported the incident, the suit alleges it only came to light thanks to the efforts of Rad, and only after negotiations over the valuation of Rad’s Tinder stock options fell apart. Rad reported it to company officials a week after telling his financial advisor, in an email about Blatt: “We are at war. We will destroy him,” according to Blatt’s suit.

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An internal investigation after Rad’s formal complaint found that Blatt had not violated the law or company policy. According to Blatt’s suit, "[t]he board did, however, agree with Blatt that he had exercised poor judgment. As a result, the board determined that an appropriate reprimand was to cancel an option grant Blatt had been scheduled to receive in early May worth millions of dollars. Blatt accepted his punishment without objection.” Blatt left the company at the end of 2017.

As evidence that Pambakian had a financial motive for misrepresenting the incident, Blatt’s suit points to an unusual litigation financing agreement between her and Rad that promised her upfront and contingent payments totaling millions of dollars in exchange for participating in the lawsuit over the valuation of Tinder and including her harassment claim in that suit. Blatt alleges this agreement was Rad’s strategy for damaging his credibility as a witness in the valuation case.

“In essence, Rad was willing to pay Pambakian out of his own pocket in order to convince her to join the valuation lawsuit,” Blatt’s complaint says. “This arrangement only made sense from Rad’s perspective if he believed that Pambakian’s participation would increase his chance of victory in the suit.”

Snyder, the attorney for Rad and Pambakian, has said the payments were compensation for the value of Pambakian’s stock options, which Match Group canceled after she joined the lawsuit.

Blatt’s defamation suit joins a flurry of legal actions surrounding Tinder’s corporate practices, none of which involve current employees or managers at the popular dating app company or its owners, though several target the company itself.

In the central $2-billion lawsuit against the company, which is working its way through the courts in New York state, Tinder co-founder Rad and a number of former Tinder executives claim that IAC and its dating app subsidiary Match Group (which also owns Hinge and OkCupid) purposely undervalued the company in an effort to avoid paying out billions in stock options to the original team that developed the swipe-to-match dating app.

Pambakian initially made her sexual battery claims against Blatt public last year as part of that larger suit, but withdrew after finding that she had signed an arbitration agreement with the company. Tinder fired her in December; the stand-alone suit against Blatt and the company that Pambakian filed in August alleges, in addition to sexual battery and harassment, that her firing was retaliation for her participation in the stock pricing suit. (Match CEO Mandy Ginsberg has said it was necessary to terminate Pambakian because the public nature of her involvement in the lawsuit clashed with her duties as a public spokeswoman for Tinder, and because she insisted on communicating through her lawyers for work-related matters.)

In September, the Federal Trade Commission filed suit against Match Group, saying it deceived users into becoming subscribers by promoting the activities of what it knew to be spam or fraud accounts. Match says the FTC “misrepresented internal emails and relied on cherry-picked data to make outrageous claims.”

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Match has also engaged in litigation against Bumble, an online dating start-up co-founded by Whitney Wolfe Herd, an early Tinder employee. Wolfe Herd filed her own high-profile sexual harassment claim against Tinder after dating and breaking up with co-founder Justin Mateen. In 2018, Match sued Bumble, alleging intellectual property infringement, and Bumble sued back, claiming Match fraudulently elicited trade secrets under the guise of acquisition talks. That dispute remains in progress.


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