A former investment banker turned 'She-E-O' launched a 'period underwear' startup -- now the company is embroiled in an alleged sexual harassment disaster

Miki Agrawal Thinx 1515Sarah JacobsMiki Agrawal.

Miki Agrawal cofounded Thinx, an underwear start-up meant to replace feminine hygiene products, in 2011.

But according to recent reports in Racked and New York Magazine, Agrawal has stepped down from her role as CEO of the company amid allegations that she behaved inappropriately with her employees and created a workplace culture that ran counter to the startup’s feminist marketing.

One former employee, Chelsea Leibow, has filed a complaint with the City of New York Commission on Human Rights, alleging that Agrawal “touched an employee’s breasts and asked her to expose them, routinely changed clothes in front of employees, and conducted meetings via videoconference while in bed, apparently unclothed,” according to New York Magazine.

The complaint also names the company’s chief financial and chief operating officers.

In a statement to Business Insider, Thinx highlighted that the company had not been served with any official complaint or charge:

“Miki Agrawal is no longer CEO, and we are working to put new leadership and policies in place so we can continue to grow and thrive. To support this effort, we have hired an executive search firm to assist in the recruitment of a new CEO. We are also hiring a human resources executive and, in the interim, have engaged a human resources professional who is working in our offices to support our progress.”

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

In a self-published post on Medium, Agrawal denied the allegations:

“The company commissioned a third party employment law firm to conduct extensive diligence on each allegation and they all came back false and without any merit. Thank you for the thousands of wonderful messages of support during this strange time, each one has meant a lot. 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. This is all I am going to say on this matter.”

The complaint also alleges that Agrawal discussed other topics that reportedly made employees uncomfortable, such as the size and shape of coworkers’ breasts and her own sexual experiences. Agrawal told New York Magazine that the sexual-harassment claims were “baseless” and had “absolutely no merit.” Leibow was fired from Thinx in December, reportedly after several months of complaining about Agrawal’s actions in the office.

“I can recall multiple occasions when I tried to be honest about salaries or employment policies,” Leibow said to New York Magazine. Agrawal “would stew, treat you like s—, then pick a moment to blow up and tell you how ungrateful you are and how you should be thanking her for the opportunity, how dare you.”

According to Racked, 10 of the company’s 35 employees have left since January. The articles in both Racked and New York Magazine also say that the startup does not have a formal HR department and offers comparatively low pay and expensive health insurance to its employees (a $US200 per month premium as the cheapest option). Employees claim that the company offered a parental leave policy of two weeks of full pay for the birthing parent, plus one week at half pay. The non-birthing parent would receive one week of full pay and one week of half pay.

“I remember one of my coworkers started crying,” one source told Racked. “She said, you know, ‘I love working here. I love working for women. But it hurts to know that I’m giving my whole life to Thinx basically, like I work all the time, but I can’t even afford birth control. And what does that mean if we’re at a feminist company and I can’t afford to keep myself safe and protected?'”

Shortly after word got out that Agrawal would be stepping down from her role at Thinx (as well as Icon, a “pee-proof” underwear company she cofounded) she told staff that she would stay on as the company’s “SHE-E-O,” a title that she often uses to describe herself, Racked reported. Thinx’s board of directors is reportedly looking for a “professional CEO” to take Agrawal’s place.

She responded to the Racked article with a Medium post explaining why the company didn’t have set policies in place for things like maternity leave and benefits:

“I didn’t take time to think through it. We grew so quickly and I didn’t hire an HR person (it was hard to rationalize hiring an HR person at the time with only 15 employees and then all of a sudden we were 30 people) … All of a sudden, health insurance, vacation days, benefits and maternity leave were brought up (at the time we didn’t have any pregnant women on the team unlike now where we have 3, including me! :-)) and when you’re a start-up and you’re growing and moving so fast (remember, we’ve only really hit this crazy growth period 18 months ago), to sit down and get an HR person and think about those things were left to the bottom of the pile of things to get done.”

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