Former Tinder executives are locked in a messy legal battle
The legal battles between former Tinder executives just keep getting messier.
Former Tinder and Match Group CEO Greg Blatt has filed a lawsuit, accusing Tinder co-founder Sean Rad and former VP of marketing and communications Rosette Pambakian of defaming him. Blatt says they made public accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault against him last year.
Blatt’s suit was first filed in a California court in August. An amended version of the suit, filed on Thursday, included claims that Rad allegedly offered to pay Pambakian “millions of dollars” to make “false allegations of sexual harassment against Blatt” in a “brazen attempt to gain publicity” in a separate financial lawsuit.
On Monday, after this article was originally published, lawyers for Blatt filed to take his complaint against Pambakian into private arbitration because, they argue, certain employment-related claims filed by Pambakian against Blatt are already in arbitration. The lawyers for Pambakian and Rad sharply criticized that move. In a motion to dismiss Blatt’s defamation suit, also filed on Monday, lawyers for Pambakian and Rad called Blatt’s team’s decision to file suit and then move to go to arbitration an “abuse of the court system” and “a shameful effort to stage a public smear campaign against a sexual assault accuser under cover of a court proceeding.”
Rad, Pambakian and eight other early employees of Tinder kicked off a whirlwind of legal battles when they sued Match Group, Tinder’s parent company, and its owner IAC for $2 billion in August 2018 alleging that the company manipulated the valuation of Tinder to deny them billions of dollars they were owed. Included in that suit was Pambakian’s claim that she was allegedly groped and sexually harassed by Blatt at a 2016 holiday party. According to Pambakian, the party coincided with Blatt being named Tinder’s CEO.
According to Blatt’s lawsuit, Pambakian and Blatt engaged in “irreverent and, at times, ribald and suggestive conversation” with “both laughing throughout” at the holiday party. The lawsuit alleges that Pambakian suggested that Blatt and two other Tinder employees at the holiday party go to a hotel room and order room service. Blatt claims he did not go immediately but texted one of the those two employees for the room number and eventually joined.
“For a brief period, Blatt’s and Pambakian’s fully-clothed bodies were in contact, and Blatt and Pambakian kissed. The interaction was consensual. Room service was then delivered,” the suit reads. “Soon after eating, Blatt departed. While in the hotel room, Blatt and Pambakian were fully clothed at all times. After that evening, Pambakian and Blatt never engaged in any further physical encounters.”
Pambakian didn’t report the incident directly to the company, Blatt’s suit claims. Instead, it was Sean Rad who reported the incident six months later in an alleged attempt to remove Blatt in his pursuit of fetching a higher valuation for Tinder, according to the suit.
The fight over Tinder’s valuation
The 2018 suit alleged that Match Group kept Blatt on as CEO because he was key to downplaying Tinder’s valuation. IAC has defended its valuation process, calling the suit “meritless,” stating that Rad and other former executives who left the company a year or more ago “may not like the fact that Tinder has experienced enormous success following their respective departures, but sour grapes alone do not a lawsuit make.”
Due to an arbitration agreement, Pambakian dropped her claims from that suit shortly after it was filed, bringing her own lawsuit against Blatt and IAC over the handling of her claims and her alleged wrongful termination after the Rad lawsuit was filed. The case in ongoing.
Current Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg, who took over after Blatt’s resignation, said in an email to Pambakian that she was “terminated because it was not possible for you to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of your role as Tinder’s spokesperson for a number of reasons, including your public position against the company over a valuation process.”
The alleged payments to Pambakian for participating in the valuation lawsuit, which are now at the center of Blatt’s lawsuit, were first mentioned last month in a filing in the ongoing legal battle between IAC, Match Group and Sean Rad.
Rad allegedly offered the payment “under the guise of a litigation funding agreement,” but Pambakian would cash in regardless of whether the lawsuit was successful, or if she dropped out of the suit, according to Blatt’s filing.
“That is false,” Orin Snyder, a partner at Gibson Dunn who is representing the valuation lawsuit as well as Pambakian and Rad in the Blatt defamation suit, said in a statement to CNN Business about the financing. “There were no upfront payments promised for joining the lawsuit. The only payments were triggered by IAC/Match retaliating against plaintiffs by stripping away their hard-earned equity.”
Snyder added that the allegations are attempts to “smear a victim of sexual assault and the person who reported it.”
Pambakian alleges she was fired the day before her remaining stock options vested. The company and Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg, who took over Blatt’s job, have denied this.
Allegations of false accusations
In his suit, Blatt alleges that Rad, internally, made a false accusation of the alleged sexual assault incident without Pambakian’s support, and she was ultimately convinced by Rad to join his valuation suit and bring her claims against Blatt. The complaint describes a “close professional and personal relationship both before and after the holiday party” between Blatt and Pambakian, citing messages sent by Pambakian to or about Blatt in the complaint.
In response to the allegations against Blatt, a Match Group spokesperson previously said in a statement to CNN Business that “the Match Group Board — with the assistance of experienced outside counsel from two nationally recognized law firms — promptly conducted a careful and thorough investigation under the direction of independent Board members, concluded, among other things, that there was no violation of law or company policy, and took appropriate action.”
Blatt, who worked at Match Group and IAC in various executive roles for roughly 14 years before resigning as chairman and CEO of Match Group as well as CEO of Tinder in 2017, is seeking a minimum of $50 million in damages in his defamation suit.