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Thinx Co-Founder Denies Sexual Harassment Allegations

22/03/2017 12:13 AM IST | Updated 22/03/2017 12:13 AM IST

Miki Agrawal, the co-founder of underwear company Thinx, is denying claims she sexually harassed a former employee and engaged in other inflammatory behavior in the workplace. 

The company, perhaps best known for its eye-catching ads on public transportation systems, manufactures underwear for menstruating women to use as an alternative to tampons or pads. Thinx earned praise early on for its feminist message and efforts to normalize women’s periods. However, the company has recently been plagued by unflattering portraits of its workplace culture and Agrawal’s leadership. (Agrawal, a self-proclaimed “taboo breaker,” stepped down as CEO earlier this month, and is now serving as the company’s “chief vision officer.” )

On Monday, New York Magazine reported that Chelsea Leibow, the company’s former head of public relations, filed a complaint with the New York Commission on Human Rights alleging Agrawal routinely engaged in hostile behavior in the company’s mostly female office, including touching Leibow’s breasts and asking her to expose them. The complaint also says Agrawal changed clothes in front of her employees, spoke in detail about her sex life, and conducted videoconferences while appearing unclothed, among other allegations. Leibow said she was fired from the company in December after she complained about Agrawal’s behavior. 

In an update to a Medium blog post first published last week, Agrawal denied the charges. She also said an employment law firm had investigated Leibow’s claims and found they were without merit. 

“To be crystal clear, I know I’m passionate and oft unruly in my ways (as a taboo breaker must be), but I have never, ever crossed the line in the inflammatory ways described,” Agrawal wrote. “This is all I am going to say on this matter.”

A Thinx spokesperson declined to discuss the specifics of Leibow’s complaint.

“Related to Ms. Leibow’s allegations, THINX has not been served with a legal complaint or charge from any agency,” the spokesperson said. “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.” 

The spokesperson added that the company plans to hire a human resources executive. (Thinx currently has no formal HR structure.

Leibow declined to comment for this story or provide a copy of her complaint. A spokesperson for the New York Commission on Human Rights said the organization does not share files related to ongoing investigations.

The latest allegations came one week after Racked published a lengthy report on Thinx’s workplace culture. The story details past and present employees’ experiences in the company, and how those experiences were at odds with the company’s feminist mission and branding. The complaints included poor parental leave policies, “prohibitively expensive” health care plans and stagnant wages.

The company says it is taking the allegations raised in the story seriously. 

“In light of the concerns raised in the Racked story: our leadership is getting to the bottom of these allegations, and, as ever, we are actively working to address and improve our corporate culture,” a spokesperson told The Huffington Post last week.

Agrawal, meanwhile, attributed the subpar policies to the growing pains of running a start-up.

“Like any start-up when faced with something new, you do your best in solving it as it arises,” she wrote on Medium. “THINX has proven over and over again that we care so much about improving the lives of women globally through innovation, eliminating the oldest shame in the world (a woman’s period) and one that has helped SO many girls go back to school in the developing world, changing their lives forever.”  

Lydia O’Connor and Matt Ferner contributed reporting. 

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