The Seattle CEO who rose to national prominence for setting a $70,000 minimum salary for all his employees — and slashing his own salary to match — has resigned from the company he founded during college amid accusations of misconduct and assault.
“My No. 1 priority is for our employees to work for the best company in the world, but my presence has become a distraction here,” he wrote in an email to staff that he also shared on Twitter on Wednesday night. “I also need to step aside from these duties to focus full time on fighting false accusations made against me,” adding, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Price did not elaborate on the allegations or respond to a request for comment on Thursday. But later that evening, the New York Times published a report alleging the CEO had used his online celebrity to mask “a pattern of abuse in his personal life and hostile behavior at his company.” The report, which has not been independently verified by The Post, alleged he pursued women online “who say he hurt them, both physically and emotionally.”
In a statement to the Times, Price said he had “never physically or sexually abused anyone,” and that “the other accusations of inappropriate behavior towards women in this story are simply false.”
Earlier this year, Price was charged with fourth-degree assault and reckless driving after prosecutors said he attempted to kiss a woman in his car after a dinner meeting, according to the Seattle Times. When she refused, Price allegedly drove to a North Seattle parking lot where he did “doughnuts” with her in the car.
His attorney entered a not guilty plea in Seattle Municipal Court in May.
A frequent critic of corporate executives and the vast pay gap between them and their workers, Price won national acclaim in 2015 after announcing he would raise every employee’s salary to at least $70,000. At that time, his 120 employees were paid an average salary of $48,000 a year, according to the Times.
He also reduced his own $1 million compensation to that floor, taking a more than 90 percent pay cut, and tapped roughly three-quarters of that year’s profits to cover the higher wages, the report added. Price said at the time that he would keep his salary low until the profits were earned back.
Price often turned to social media to tout the success of his company’s model. His Twitter posts are breezy, unlike the often stilted posts of business executives, offering his 770,000 followers an online persona that mixes labor activist with work-life-balance influencer. He often evangelizes on fair-minded bosses and companies. The minimum pay for Gravity workers is now $80,000, he has noted, and the company offers unlimited paid time off. Job openings typically attract more than 300 applicants, he said.
Before the resignation announcement, he tweeted about layoffs, proclaiming, “An actual good CEO would never do layoffs ever.”
The original salary floor was set the same year Price won a legal battle against his brother, Lucas Price. A three-week court battle ensued after Lucas Price alleged that his rights as a minority shareholder were violated when Dan Price upped his own salary. A King County court disagreed, and ordered Lucas Price to pay his brother’s legal fees, totaling $1.3 million.
Price’s profile rose as a broader conversation was playing out around pay disparity and economic inequality, with corporate America and its highly compensated executives often catching the brunt of the criticism.
In 2015, the year Price cut his pay, the nation’s CEOs were collecting 276 times the annual pay of the typical worker, according to the Economic Policy Institute. A 2021 analysis found that gap has widened, to 351 times as much as the average worker. Compensation for top executives has soared nearly 1,300 percent in he past four decades, after adjusting for inflation. The study found that average pay for top businesses leaders at the country’s 350 largest companies was $24.2 million in 2020, when the realized value of stock options are factored in.
Meanwhile, the minimum wage at the federal level has remained unchanged since 2009, at $7.25 an hour. Although some state governments have taken the lead on raising the floor to upward of $15.
Price was 19 when he started Gravity Payments in 2004 out of his dorm room at Seattle Pacific University, using seed money from Lucas Price, according to the Times. The now 38-year-old has authored a 2020 book entitled “Worth It: How a Million-Dollar Pay Cut and a $70,000 Minimum Wage Revealed a Better Way of Doing Business.” That same year, he wrote a perspective piece for The Post, championing his company’s treatment of workers as a model that allowed staff to decide how to confront the economic shocks during the early months of the pandemic.
He also wrote that 98 percent of Gravity Payments employees volunteered to temporarily cut their pay from 5 to 100 percent to avoid layoffs. On Wednesday, Price said the company has never laid off a single employee in its 18-year history.
The company’s chief operating officer, Tammi Kroll, has stepped in as CEO. “The company supports his decision to step aside,” she said in a statement.