The storm of allegations of sexual harassment that began with revelations about film producer Harvey Weinstein’s relationships with female actors and moved to complaints about similar assaults by gay actors and agents such as Kevin Spacey and Tyler Grasham now is raining on Grindr, the West Hollywood-based company that operates the world’s most widely used gay sex hookup app.
A former employee of Grindr, which is headquartered at the Pacific Design Center, is suing the company after allegedly being raped by a Grindr human resources manager at the company’s 2016 Christmas party.
The lawsuit was filed on Thursday in L.A. County Superior Court. The plaintiff, identified in the suit as “John Doe,” 36, said he had been hired by Grindr in 2011 as an IT and networking consultant and carried the title “manager of customer support.” In the court filing, Doe, who lived in Scotland, said Grindr flew him to Los Angeles in December 2016 to train Grindr employees and attend its Christmas party in downtown Los Angeles.
Doe alleges that during the party, where alcohol was consumed, Grindr human resources manager Daniel Cabanero “made sexually inappropriate comments” to him. At some point, Doe alleges, he felt as if he had been drugged. He then was taken to his hotel room by Cabanero and one or more other unnamed Grindr employees.
In his complaint, Doe said he “remembers being in his hotel room with Daniel Cabanero on top of him, holding him down, naked, and anally raping him. (Doe) also recalls seeing another man … in the background, as he was being sexually assaulted.”
Doe said he woke up the next morning, Dec. 10, and went to a hospital emergency room for a rape examination. “Law enforcement then went to the hotel, gathered physical evidence, and a criminal investigation was opened,” the suit claims. Doe said he informed Erin Shoji, Grindr’s vice president of operations, of the sexual assault and she replied, “the company needs to be liable for this happening.”
Doe alleges that Grindr took no action after the incident to discipline Cabanero or other employees who might have been present during the alleged sexual harassment and rape. He also alleges that Grindr and some of its employees “created an abusive environment that encouraged the use of sexually explicit language, sexual innuendos, and inappropriate sexual misconduct.”
As of publication, Grindr has not responded to a request for comment about the lawsuit. However, it did respond earlier to the New York Daily News, saying that Cabanero “was not a supervisor or manager, but a general HR employee.”
“As soon as the company was notified about the alleged incident, we took immediate steps to investigate this matter in a compassionate and respectful way,” a Grindr representative told the Daily News. “In addition to conducting our own internal investigation, Grindr fully cooperated with the local authorities. We condemn all forms of sexual assault, harassment, and harmful behavior. We remain committed to cooperating with law enforcement and the legal process.”
Grindr was founded in 2009 by Joel Simkhai, currently a resident of Los Angeles. Earlier this year, Kunlun Group, the Beijing-based gaming company that had purchased 62% of Grindr, acquired the remaining 38%. That acquisition brought the total value of the company to a reported $152 million.
While Grindr, headquartered in the Pacific Design Center’s Red Building, is known among gay men as an app used to find other men for sex, it has been working in various ways to rebrand itself as a lifestyle and social connection app and an advocate for LGBT rights. The company is selling Grindr-branded apparel online, and on its website it now offers a variety of LGBT news stories along with lists of organizations focused on LGBT rights.
Grindr also has been the focus of some controversy. In September 2016, WEHOville published a story calling out Grindr as the only major gay hookup app that didn’t screen for text and emojis used by drug dealers to promote themselves. According to that story, an average of three methamphetamine dealers could be contacted on Grindr in West Hollywood during early morning hours. A month later Grindr took steps to do that screening.
Grindr also was the subject of a federal lawsuit in New York in which a man claims that Grindr took no action when he alerted the company more than 100 times to a fake profile allegedly created by his former boyfriend to harass him. As a result, the man claims, more than 1,100 men have shown up at his home or the restaurant at which he works, responding to what they believed were requests by him to meet for sex.
The app also has struggled with a reputation for being used by some people to meet gay men to rob them or commit other crimes.