Disgraced celebrity CEO Dan Price once likened himself to a Jew being persecuted by the Nazis after his co-workers refused to help him out with a biza
Disgraced celebrity CEO Dan Price once likened himself to a Jew being persecuted by the Nazis after his co-workers refused to help him out with a bizarre stunt at the company.
The disturbing allegation is one of several made by former employees who tell of a host of alarming incidents including one in which Price demanded to be filmed saying how he believed his firm, Gravity Payments, could do for small businesses what Rosa Parks did for civil rights.
A marketing employee whom Price asked to record his ill-judged declaration declined to do so but recounted the incident having taken place at Gravity in Seattle.
Price, who founded the company in 2004 at the age of 19 while a student at Pacific University in the city, made international headlines after slashing his own pay as CEO from $1million to $70,000 while raising the minimum wage at Gravity Payments.
He resigned earlier this year amid reports that he had forcibly kissed a 26-year-old woman and grabbed her by the throat after she rejected his advances and in a second incident allegedly raped a 27-year-old ex-girlfriend.
Former employees of Gravity Payments previously ran by CEO Dan Price, 38, have come forward to share disturbing incidents while working for the company under him
Price reportedly compared himself to Jewish people in Nazi Germany when two marketing employees declined to film him cutting down fishing nets, an idea he had pitched as symbolizing Gravity cutting out red tape in credit card processing. Pictured above, Nazi SS Special Commanders line up Kiev Jews to execute them with guns and push them in to a ditch, already containing bodies of victims in Poland, in 1941
‘You see the Dan in the news where he’s very charming and polished and then you’d hear these behind-the-scenes stories,’ said Caitlin Palfenier, pictured, a former recruiter for Gravity
A total of 26 former employees who spoke with The Seattle Times stated that working at Gravity had a negative impact on their mental or emotional well-being, while also acknowledging that the company had helped them form friendships with coworkers and gain a foothold in the industry.
Two former employees who had close working relationships with the then-CEO say he rarely visited the office but his presence was still strongly felt by his workers.
Most of these employees expressed support for the company’s goal of assisting small businesses, but said that this was overshadowed by the Price’s behavior.
One employee said that they were not affected by the workplace culture or the CEO’s behavior, but the majority of the other former Gravity employees described the Price as an erratic manager with a penchant for making unusual requests, making grand entrances, and exhibiting outbursts.
According to accounts from several former employees, Price exhibited unusual and inappropriate behavior on multiple occasions.
One former employee recalled how the CEO arrived at a company party while wakeboarding shirtless behind a boat.
Another described the Price laying down on a couch and playing with his phone during a job interview.
A third employee remembered the CEO walking into the middle of the open floor plan office and announcing that he was going to shoot himself.
In another instance, the Price reportedly compared himself to Jewish people in Nazi Germany when two marketing employees declined to film him cutting down fishing nets, an idea he had pitched as symbolizing Gravity cutting out red tape in credit card processing.
Price is alleged to have said how he believed Gravity could do for small businesses what Rosa Parks did for civil rights
Price was described as an erratic manager with a penchant for making unusual requests, making grand entrances, and exhibiting outbursts
Stephanie Brooks, who worked in the human resources department at Gravity, recalled being asked by a supervisor in her first year at the company to pick up a bag of trash left behind after a yacht party attended by the CEO, unrelated to company business.
When she arrived at the docks, they were locked, and feeling unable to return empty-handed, she climbed over the gate at the South Lake Union marina.
At that time, Brooks was in her early 20s and the CEO offered to host a pool party for her at his house.
After working at Gravity for five years, Brooks resigned in 2020 without having another job lined up.
She described her time at the company as the ‘golden age of Gravity before we started to see the façade.’
One former employee recalled how as CEO Price arrived at a company party while wakeboarding shirtless behind a boat
‘We were all told we were a part of something special,’ Palfenier said, pictured above. ‘You have a shared experience. We broke down in front of each other. We got really emotional and vulnerable and we bonded over that.’
New hires at the company were encouraged to share deeply personal experiences as a way to ‘bond’ with their co-workers.
Nine former employees stated how they attended a dinner with their colleagues, managers, and senior leaders at the company where they heard about their coworkers’ highs and lows in life, including a mother’s death and a drunk driving arrest.
Another employee remembered being asked about their biggest regrets.
The goal of the dinners was reportedly to create a sense of family at Gravity, according to one manager who hosted several of them at Seattle restaurants.
The manager, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, stated that they were instructed to buy drinks and food from the menu to extend the meal and keep new hires talking.
This same manager also attended a company sexual harassment training during their first week at Gravity, where colleagues were paired up to share personal experiences of abuse.
Some former employees described how the company under Price would hold ‘trauma-bonding’ sessions
The training became so emotional that the manager had to leave early.
‘You see the Dan in the news where he’s very charming and polished and then you’d hear these behind-the-scenes stories,’ said Caitlin Palfenier, a former recruiter for Gravity.
‘He either wants you to worship him or, if you don’t worship him, he wants you to be afraid enough to not do anything about it.’
While some former employees recalled the new hire dinners fondly, others felt that they were a way for the company to learn about workers’ insecurities and break down boundaries.
One employee remembered feeling uncomfortable sharing personal information with colleagues and being shamed for holding back during a presentation at a company retreat, where employees were asked to draw timelines of their life experiences.
An employee and Dan Price in 2019 cutting the ribbon to the Gravity Payments office in Boise
Some former employees described these bonding experiences as involving ‘bonding over life trauma.’
‘We were all told we were a part of something special,’ Palfenier said. ‘You have a shared experience. We broke down in front of each other. We got really emotional and vulnerable and we bonded over that.
‘It became a competition to see who would be more vulnerable and who could break down the most,’ she said. ‘It’s bonding over life trauma — and now we’re all together.’
In a statement to The Seattle Times Gravity stated: ‘We investigate every case of reported harassment between employees.’ No specific allegations were addressed.
Price first founded Gravity Payments in 2004, using seed money from his older brother Lucas to build out the startup in his dorm room while at university.
He has said he got the idea for the credit card processing company while playing in a rock band at a coffee shop in his hometown outside Boise, Idaho, where the coffee shop owner would often complain about how much she had to pay for credit card processing fees.
Price made a name for himself when he announced in 2015 he was cutting his $1.1 million salary to boost all of his employees wages up to $70,000
Over the years, Price made a name for himself in the Seattle business community, and by April 2015, he earned national headlines when he announced he was cutting his roughly $1 million salary to $70,000.
He said he would then use the company profits to ensure that every employee would earn at least that much within three years.
That amounted to a 46 percent jump from Gravity Payment’s average annual salary of $48,000 at the time.
About 70 employees got raises as a result, with 30 doubling seeing their salaries double.
Price said in follow-up interviews that he came up with the idea after reading a study showing that extra income improved the happiness of people who earn less than $75,000 a year.
Price resigned from his role in August amid several misconduct allegations
But during the pandemic Gravity began to have a problem with revenue and struggled to make up for the shortfall in payment processing.
Price said that almost all of the employees had offered to take a pay cut in order for the company to survive but ten workers came forward to say the cuts were not a choice at all and were instead either forced to take a pay cut or be laid off, despite the cuts being described as ‘voluntary’
The company now pays a minimum wage of $80,000 to all employees, and executives announced earlier this year they would give employees a $10,000 raise.
As a result, Gravity Payments now receives over 300 applications per job opening. Price even bragged that he never had to lay off a worker.
The company is believed to serves more than 13,000 merchants, helping them to avoid fees and simplifying credit card processing at the point of sale, together with mobile and e-commerce payments.