Miki Agrawal, the founder, former CEO and now "SHE-eo" of THINX who aimed to take on the feminine hygiene industry, finds herself awash in allegations that she touched employees inappropriately and created a hostile work environment.
THINX makes "period underwear" and is known for its cheeky New York City subway advertising campaigns. An expose published last week on the fashion site Racked draws on anonymous sources who work or worked at the company and complain they were deemed "selfish" and "ungrateful" when they tried to negotiate their compensation.
But a lengthy article published by New York Magazine on Monday is more damning. In her story, Noreen Malone breaks down a complaint filed last week with the City of New York Commission on Human Rights by Chelsea Leibow, 26, THINX's former head of public relations. Leibow was terminated in December after making numerous complaints about Agrawal's behavior.
According to Malone's story, Agrawal's transgressions include speaking openly at work about "the size and shape of her employees' breasts, an employee's nipple piercings, her own sexual exploits, her desire to experiment with polyamory, her interest in entering a sexual relationship with one of her employees, and the exact means by which she was brought to female ejaculation."
Malone writes that the ex-CEO also "touched an employee's breasts and asked her to expose them, routinely changed clothes in front of employees, and conducted meetings via video-conference while in bed, apparently unclothed … At least once, she supposedly FaceTimed into a meeting from the toilet."
The complaint states that it was Agrawal's "generally aggressive and retaliatory demeanor, position of authority, and style of management" that prevented Leibow from voicing her concerns more forcefully at the time. Other former employees who spoke to Malone for the story describe an environment in which dissent was discouraged and retaliation common.
Here are five of the most shocking allegations against Agrawal:
Leibow says that soon after she began working at the company Agrawal developed an "obsession" with her breasts and would "help herself."
"I didn't say anything to her at the time," she tells the magazine. "If you've ever been touched without your consent, you know it's jarring."
The CEO also reportedly pressured Leibow to expose her nipple piercings in the office, and talked about the incident onstage at an industry event, mentioning Leibow, who was in the audience, by name and pointing her out.
Leibow said she didn't feel like her boss was actually coming on to her, but explained her discomfort this way: "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."
The complaint indicates that Agrawal touched at least one other employee's breasts. She denies the allegation.
The complaint accuses Agrawal of regular at-work nudity – either while changing or testing new company products – in her glass-walled office, as well as the company's open-plan work-space.
Also, the complaint notes that "it was common for Agrawal to conduct such meetings while audibly or visibly using the toilet."
Raises were rare and reserved for men
The story published in Racked last week describes employees' feelings of being under-compensated and targeted if they asked for raises. Still, one of the most surprising details in the filing has to do with the company's fraught compensation setup.
Agrawal expressed sexual interest in employees
According to Malone's story, "several current and former employees say that Agrawal frequently told her assistant, a lesbian, how 'hot' she found her. One source says she'd introduce her assistant by saying they flirted with one another all the time."
The company introduced "culture queens" instead of HR
One of Agrawal's most significant managerial blunders, which the former CEO acknowledges in a Medium post published in the wake of the Racked article, was the failure to introduce any HR staff or processes at the company.
Eventually, she introduced two "Culture Queens" to deal with employee grievances. Neither had HR experience or received additional training. The policy for dealing concerns brought to the "Queens," often about Agrawal, was to report them to Agrawal herself or her COO, who is also named in the lawsuit.
The complaint states that even the Culture Queens had concerns about Agrawal's behavior and interactions with employees. Liebow had spoken to one of them about the founder just a week before she was fired.
Agrawal and THINX have responded to the New York Magazine piece as follows:
[Agrawal] first directed me to the Medium post, and then we spoke on the phone about the sexual-harassment allegations, which she called "baseless" and with "absolutely no merit." Agrawal said her legal team has contacted third-party employment counsel. She noted that she was speaking for herself, not the company, and recorded the call.
A THINX spokesperson replied to a list of allegations from Leibow's filing with this statement: "We take matters related to our company culture very seriously. THINX has not been served with a legal complaint or charge from any agency related to Ms. Leibow's allegations. When the issues were brought to our attention following her 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."