In 2019, Ramsey Solutions held its Christmas party at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. An enthusiastic email sent to staff of the company, which is run by evangelical cash-chat radio host Dave Ramsey, informed them on logistics and included a few warnings.
“We’ll have alcohol at the party (which is awesome but requires us to be wise and mature),” wrote chief marketing officer Jen Sievertsen in the email, a copy of which was obtained by the Scene. “Most of us have a hotel room there (another huge blessing).”
She went on: “And just one more time….whether it’s 5 pm or 11:30 pm or 2:30 am….don’t have an individual in your hotel room that’s not your spouse or your family member….it may be 100% innocent YET the appearance is less than that. Even your serious boyfriend/girlfriend/fiance/ or just ‘really great long time platonic friend of the opposite sex’ needs to NOT be in your hotel room. Period. If they need a ride home, put them in an Uber, but don’t let them sleep off that extra drink in your hotel room because it doesn’t look good. And you don’t need people questioning your integrity because righteous living is living righteously and not giving people a reason to question that.”
One former Ramsey Solutions employee — a woman who left the company this year — says staffers were told that board members would be in the lobby to make sure no one was leaving with someone other than a spouse.
The company’s definition of “righteous living” — and how it’s enforced — is at the center of an ongoing lawsuit brought in 2020 by Caitlin O’Connor, who was fired when she got pregnant and thus revealed that she’d had sex outside of marriage. The company says it has fired eight other people in the past five years for extramarital sex. In another lawsuit, brought earlier this year, Julie Anne Stamps alleges she was fired after coming out publicly as a lesbian. The women’s suits sit — awkwardly at best — next to reports about the company’s handling of author and media personality Chris Hogan’s extramarital affairs.
The Hogan controversy and the O’Connor suit have raised questions and brought forth new allegations about how the culture at Ramsey Solutions affects women. O’Connor’s lawyers have argued that the company’s policy about sex outside of marriage is effectively harsher on women for the obvious reason that they will be exposed if they become pregnant. Former Ramsey employees who spoke to the Scene — two women and a man who spoke under the condition of anonymity for fear of attracting the ire of a man whose orbit they’ve tried to leave — describe a gossipy culture of paranoia and suspicion in which everything from women’s clothing to which co-workers they spend time with is subject to scrutiny and rebuke.
“This is another attempt by the plaintiff to litigate her case in the court of public opinion because legally, it has no merit, as is evidenced by the court already having dismissed all religious discrimination claims,” the company says in a statement to the Scene, declining to respond specifically to statements from former employees, none of whom were O’Connor. “The plaintiff is desperately trying to keep her case alive and smear Ramsey Solutions in the process by making statements and allegations that are not accurate. The truth is that the plaintiff was terminated for engaging in premarital sex, which she knew was a violation of the company’s core values. In the past 5 years, 8 other people have been terminated for the same thing, and most of them were men.”
But one newly surfaced allegation, revealed during a recent on-the-record case management conference between attorneys in the O’Connor case — a court recording of which was obtained by the Scene — raises questions about how the company handles alleged sexual misconduct. During the conference, one of O’Connor’s attorneys said that a male employee came to Ramsey confessing that he’d had an affair and saying that the woman involved was alleging “parts of it” were nonconsensual. The attorney said Ramsey emailed the company’s Human Resources Committee, telling them that “this poor guy” was being accused and “this woman’s crazy.”
Other emails from Ramsey, cited in court filings by the company’s attorneys, show him taking what would be known in evangelical circles as a “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach to O’Connor’s firing. While agreeing with the HRC’s decision that she should be fired — while pregnant — for having sex outside of marriage, he told them to “love her” and offer “lots of grace, care for the child, money, counseling, pastor support.”
But the culture at his company, as described by former employees, sounds more like a strict, sexist youth group where judgmental gossip is prevalent and women are viewed with suspicion as potential objects of temptation to the men at the office.
A man who recently left Ramsey Solutions tells the Scene that women were “held to a modesty standard” while men were not. He recalls hearing on more than one occasion about women’s-only meetings, in which the women were told not to dress in ways that would be provocative to the men (whose attire was apparently not a concern).
One of the women who spoke to the Scene, a former employee who left the company in 2019, shares the explanation she received for the company’s policies about so-called righteous living.
“Someone I knew there that worked in PR said … God won’t bless the company if there’s sin in the company, so that’s why they follow the righteous living thing so God will bless the company and business,” she says. “Basically like God’s like a genie. Joke’s on them, because there was a lot of people living with people or having premarital [sex] — whatever they consider bad sins while people get drunk at the Christmas party.”
The same woman says she was once called in to talk to her boss because another staffer had reported seeing her walking out to the parking lot and leaving for lunch with a married male co-worker. Both ended up having to defend the platonic nature of their relationship to their managers. The woman says she was told not to walk to and from the parking lot alone with male co-workers.
The other woman who spoke to the Scene says she and her now-husband got married far sooner than they’d planned because their living situations changed and she worried about losing her job if they moved in together. Later, after they eloped, she feared people at work would assume it was a shotgun wedding.
“I had some friends who worked there who were like, ‘Oh girl, you better not get pregnant super fast — they’re gonna think you got pregnant before you got married,’ ” she says.
Ultimately, the woman left the company earlier this year because of “the toxicity of Ramsey.” She says the company’s namesake goes beyond the mere tough-loving financial adviser he plays on the radio to more of a bullying leader. His handling of COVID-19 in 2020 was “appalling,” she says, and only added to the urgent feeling that she needed to leave.
“Dave just seemed to become more and more unhinged as the year went on, and I just, like, morally could not stand by that and be like, ‘Yes, I support this man and his behavior and the way he speaks to people and his attitude,’ ” she says. “It no longer fell in line with what I would consider a Christian organization, and I’m a Christian. I have been the majority of my life — gosh, 20-something years. The way that Dave and the leadership carry themselves and represent the organization is in no way biblical, at least the Bible that I know and read and love. The longer I was there the more uncomfortable I got, and the more there was just a stirring of, ‘This is not where you’re supposed to be, this is toxic, get out.’ ”