A Seattle CEO who rose to prominence by raising employees’ salaries while slashing his own is facing misdemeanor assault charges stemming from allegations that he attempted to force unwanted kisses on a woman, court records show.
Dan Price, 37, CEO of credit-card processor Gravity Payments, was charged in February with fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation, fourth-degree assault and reckless driving. Price has not yet been arraigned on the charges, which were filed in Seattle Municipal Court by the city attorney’s office.
A 26-year-old woman called Seattle police on Jan. 24 and reported that she had met Price at a restaurant on Capitol Hill four days earlier. The two had previously communicated on Instagram about work, charging papers say. The woman described Price as a public figure and said she had reached out to him in December about meeting in person to discuss “professional matters,” say charging papers.
Instead, Seattle prosecutors say that Price cornered the woman in his Tesla sedan after a dinner meeting, attempted to kiss her and then grabbed her throat when she refused. Relying on the woman’s account, city attorneys contend Price then drove her to a North Seattle parking lot, where he proceeded to drive “doughnuts” with her in the car.
Price’s defense attorney, Mark Middaugh, said in an email Wednesday that the allegations against his client are “absolutely false.”
“We have already obtained evidence that contradicts key details of the police report and raises serious doubts about the complainant’s credibility. Mr. Price respects the legal process and is confident that he will be vindicated in court,” Middaugh wrote.
The charges don’t state the woman’s occupation but note that she is in a relationship and wasn’t romantically interested in Price.
Price shot into the national spotlight in 2015 when he announced he would raise Gravity Payments employee salaries to $70,000. At that time, his 120 employees were paid an average salary of $48,000 a year. Price pledged to raise pay over the next three years across all facets of the business, including the lowest-paid clerks, customer service representatives and salespeople.
Price cut his own salary from nearly $1 million to $70,000, cementing a name for himself in the business world as a progressive CEO fighting for higher wages and better conditions for the average worker. In a Facebook live video, former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich called Price “the one moral CEO in America,” in a monologue that capitalism itself may be immoral.
“I felt guilty in the old situation,” Price said in the 2020 interview. “I’m happier now. Maybe my ego took a hit, maybe my chances of getting on the Forbes list went from little to zero but it was worth it because I’m happier, I’m healthier, and the people around are [as well].”
Assault charges filed
The woman told police that Price got drunk at the Jan. 20 dinner and later invited her to wait in his Tesla for her Uber to arrive because it was cold outside, according to charging papers. The woman agreed and said as soon as she got in the car, Price tried to kiss her, the charges say. When she pushed him away, he grabbed her throat but didn’t obstruct her airway.
“She said at that point, his demeanor changed and he became incredibly angry,” and he drove away with the woman because it was taking too long for the Uber to arrive, according to charging documents.
The woman reported being scared because Price was driving while intoxicated. She contacted her boyfriend, who said he would pick her up at the Northgate park-and-ride, say the charges.
Once the woman and Price arrived at the park-and-ride, Price began doing doughnuts in the upper parking lot, then tried to kiss the woman again, according to the charges. She pushed him away and he grabbed her throat a second time, pulsing his hand on the sides of her neck, the charges say. The woman said she could still breathe but was terrified Price “would do something further,” say charging papers.
The woman said Price then lay down in the back seat and her boyfriend picked her up, according to the charges. She told both her boyfriend and father about the incident, and told police she did not have any bruising on her neck.
The next day, Price sent the woman a text message thanking her for meeting him the night before, but the woman did not reply, charging papers say.
Charging documents don’t indicate whether police collected the text message described by the woman, or if they spoke with other witnesses or Price.
“Our attorneys are reviewing all of the evidence and determining the path forward,” said Anthony Derrick, a spokesman for the city attorney’s office. He said his office does not comment on the details of ongoing litigation.
Price started Gravity Payments in 2004 at age 19, using seed money from his older brother Lucas to build out the startup in his dorm room at Seattle Pacific University. He said he got the idea for Gravity Payments while playing in a rock band at a coffee shop.
Gravity Payments markets itself as a credit card processing company for “the little gal or guy who believes in the American dream and is willing to work to chase it,” according to its website.
Around the time of the 2015 salary bump announcement, Price ran into legal trouble. Price’s brother Lucas sued him for allegedly overpaying himself later that year. A King County judge ruled in 2016 that Dan had not violated Lucas’ rights as a minority shareholder.
Allegations that Price abused his ex-wife Kristie Colon also surfaced that year. A Bloomberg report recounted an October 2015 TEDx talk given by Colon during which she described being beaten and waterboarded by her ex, without naming Price. Price told Bloomberg those events “never happened.”
Price now takes to Twitter and Instagram, sometimes several times a day, to urge other CEOs to raise wages, make it easier for workers to take paid time off, offer more generous health care and, in some cases, get rid of meetings as a way to improve worker productivity and satisfaction.
Price is scheduled to appear in Seattle Municipal Court on Friday, court records show.