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The CEO Paying Everyone $70,000 Salaries Has Something to Hide

It seemed too good to be true. On April 13, with reporters from the New York Times and NBC News hovering nearby, Dan Price, the young chief executive officer of Gravity Payments, a Seattle-based credit card processing company, told his staff he was raising their minimum salary to $70,000 a year. Some employees would see their wages double. There was more: He planned to cut his own $1.1 million compensation to help cover the cost. The idea came to him, he’d later tell the media, after talking to a friend who earned less than he did. He read about a study showing that extra income improves the happiness of people who earn less than about $75,000. It’s not about making money; it’s about making a difference, Price told the Today Show, one of two dozen TV interviews he did in the days following the announcement. Price’s story rocketed around the world, a capitalist fairy tale to counter growing inequality. With his tousled long hair and dark brown eyes, Price combined Brad Pitt’s smolder and Boo Boo Bear’s aw-shucks demeanor to become an articulate and attractive messenger. Rush Limbaugh denounced him as a socialist. Jesse Ventura christened him Robin Hood.

In late summer, the New York Times ran a longer piece on Price, now 31, showing that raising wages wasn’t so simple. Job applicants had overwhelmed his company, and two employees quit, saying the increase wasn’t fair to higher earners. Potentially the worst blow of all, the Times wrote, was that about two weeks after the announcement, Price was sued by his older brother Lucas, who owns about 30 percent of Gravity, alleging Price paid himself too much in the first place. Price insinuated that his brother may have sued in reaction to the generous pay increase. I know the decision to pay everyone a living wage is controversial, he told the Seattle Times, which first reported the lawsuit. I deeply regret the rift this has caused in my relationship with my brother. An expensive lawsuit, filed possibly in response to his kind act, made Price seem more of an underdog. When I met him at Gravity’s headquarters in mid-October, he wasn’t even supposed to be in Seattle. He’d been scheduled to join Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards and General David Petraeus on a panel titled “Leading Under Pressure at the Chicago Ideas Week festival.

But Price had canceled at the last minute, saying he hit a wall of exhaustion. I think I’m just standing in for a bunch of other people doing great stuff, he said. To me, the responsibility is to be the best spokesperson I can. As we talked about his wild six months, I brought up the lawsuit, asking if Price thought Gravity’s spending on the raises triggered his brother’s suit, as he’d implied. I have no idea, he slowly shrugged, looking right at me. The quote in the Seattle Times from his attorney was, It wasn’t only because of that. He twisted his beard between two fingers, contemplating the statement by Lucas’s attorney, Greg Hollon. That one singular quote in the paper is the only information I have about if they were connected or not.

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