Last week there was a large update in the court case of a woman who is engaged in a lawsuit against my former employer, Ramsey Solutions. There are on the order of 1,000 pages that were released of depositions and e-mail threads in documents 93 and 94 on the case. While reading through those, one thing I noticed was the evolution of the NDAs used by the company.
I first became aware of the NDA issue at Ramsey Solutions during the “Twittergate” era. I did not want to believe these were real until I finally saw one for myself in 2020.
This is something that has been on my mind since leaving. Several friends of mine were presented with these in 2020. They courageously turned them down and the several months worth of severance that were attached to them.
But the Bible praises people who love the truth and desire it to be known in full. The Bible also places a high bar for spiritual leaders. In many large churches and organizations, NDAs have served to conceal the truth and to protect the image of top leaders, allowing them to continue harming others entrusted to their care.Katelyn Beaty, NDAs Are a Tool For Toxic Church Cultures
There has been a lot of talk about NDAs in churches and church-adjacent organizations as of late. This includes an article posted today shortly before I wrote this: NDAs Are a Tool For Toxic Church Cultures. My friends Amy and Melissa also addressed this recently on Untangled Faith.
Silencing strategies are efforts by a party with greater resources to use their own power and/or to leverage the power and authority of the legal system to prevent someone with fewer resources from sharing truthful information they otherwise have a right to share.Melissa Hogan, Dear Churches: Stop Using NDAs and Other Silencing Strategies
I am being completely transparent here: I have signed NDAs before. That is, I have signed non-disclosure agreements. I have agreed to not expose highly sensitive business secrets, client lists, personal information, HIPAA information, passwords, and the like.
What I am talking about here specifically are clauses such as “non-disparagement”, “non-harassment”, and “non-retaliation”, or any other silencing strategy.
Offer to Help
I have made this offer before and will make it again. If you are facing one of these agreements from this place and need an attorney to look it over, I will happily help pay for your consult fee. The agreements I have seen encourage you to have it reviewed, and the most recent one I have seen gives you 21 days to determine if you want to sign it.
I know if you are living on a strict monthly budget you might not have an envelope marked “attorney fees”. Staring down a job loss and paying for an attorney might not be what you want to use your emergency fund for. I can’t offer this for every person facing a NDA from a church or religious organization, but I can help those facing being silenced by this particular place.
Disparagement is just saying something negative about someone else. It can be a true statement, or at least someone’s own opinion that casts another in a negative light. Slander and libel are false statements, and are generally against the law in the context of defamation. These NDAs prevent people from saying something true but negative.
Some of these people may have been fired for reasons the company openly talks about. For example, violations of the “righteous living core value” at the heart of the lawsuit. In the case of the first person, he was fired for living with, and presumably sleeping with, his fiancé. If the company stands behind firing a person for violating this clause, what would be the harm for him to openly say “Yea, I was fired for doing this. I think it sucks and its a horrible policy, but I’m glad I am not at that place anymore.” ?
Others have been fired for something their spouse said, what I call “spousal gossip”. That is not something that was on my radar up until that point. I could see the company wanting to not let it be known that they do that. It might be viewed as crazy to the general public if a company, a CEO, or a CTO, was so sensitive to any negative comment by a spouse that they would fire the employee. Yet, they did, on at least two occasions that I am personally familiar with.
With that said, here are the non-disparagement clauses that are now part of the public record.
The purpose below is not to identify any of these individuals, but rather to shed light on the silencing tactics that were used. For those of us who worked with these people, we may know enough details to be able to ascertain their identities. That is true for these first two for me.
Man, Late 2017
This clause shows up in a GENERAL RELEASE AND EMPLOYMENT RESIGNATION given to someone in late 2017. Based on the context in the rest of the document, it was for someone I worked directly with for about two years. The release in its entirety starts on page 3 of this PDF. This is the simplest of those that have been made public.
Man, Early 2019
This extended clause shows up in another release given to someone in early 2019. The release in its entirety starts on page 1 of this PDF. I recall enough about this individual to know who it is. I interacted with him a couple times before he was let go.
Unknown Woman #1
This one references a woman. It starts on page 2 of this PDF.
Unknown Woman #2
This one starts on page 28 of the same PDF as the previous.
This version and the one following are the only two that add “business practices, Lampo culture, products and services” to the enumeration of things that cannot be disparaged. The only other mention of “products and services” is in the early 2019 version. These enumerations do not appear in the 2020 version, or in earlier versions.
Unknown Woman #3
This woman’s separation agreement starts on page 2 of this PDF. At the top of the agreement, it can be gleaned that this woman was offered a year of severance, or at least payments spread out over the course of a year. She was also required to get outside counseling and required to get quarterly coaching from a financial coach employed at Ramsey Solutions. I have not seen a “Counseling and Support” clause on any other of these agreements.
Same PDF as the previous, starting on page 9. If the NDAs have evolved over time, this one would be closer to the 2020 version (below) as it adds the “non-harassment” and “non-retaliation” clauses, but is missing some details added in that later version.
This is the version that I have seen from 2020. It is the most restrictive, in that it attempts to bind non-signers to the agreement including “family members” and “agents”. I don’t know how you could bind someone to this agreement who did not sign it, but that would be for lawyers to figure out.
The “Released Parties” is defined earlier in the document, and is extremely broad. My non-lawyer interpretation of this makes me think it could be viewed to apply to any advertisers, including the thousands of ELPs and SVPs and hundreds of radio stations that contribute to the company’s bottom line.
A few months after I initially posted this, another set of documents was added to the court filings. Document 99.1 contains paperwork that seems to be associated with the termination of Chris Hogan, a man who was reported to leadership by multiple people who was doing “unrighteous behavior”. At least all of the context in this documents points to it being him – I cannot think of anyone else who might have been let go in April 2021 who had a gross paycheck more than 7 times what mine was.
His separation agreement, on pages 5 and 6, seems to be an entirely new one. The font and formatting seems consistent with the company’s branding guidelines, and the language is also somewhat simpler.
What is consistent is that the person who signed this agreement could not disparage (say potentially truthful things that cast the other in a negative light) the CEO, their family, products, services or clients of the company, and “Released Parties”. That list is defined further up in the document.
One notable change here is that the document no longer directly requires family members who did not sign this document to keep their mouths shut. However, the terms of this document cannot be disclosed to immediate family members unless they agree in writing to keep it confidential. What that process looks like is not spelled out. Does it mean if I had such an agreement my wife would have to sign a piece of paper saying she would not disclose it? Who is she entering into a contract with, and does it need to be countersigned before she can see the terms I just agreed to? Can she run her mouth so long as she has not read the document?
For those who are facing one of these agreements, be very, very sure of what you are signing. One thing I have not seen in these agreements is a mutual or reciprocal agreement of non-disparagement. The company is under no obligation to not disparage you. You may think they will treat you nice, but once you sign one of these you give up any and all ability to defend yourself against anything they say about you, true or false. You are being paid a small amount of money by a very powerful and wealthy person to keep quiet. They are afraid of what might happen if you speak the truth, and people who are afraid tend to lash out. For example, there was that time the CEO was extremely hyperbolic and made up details about a friend of mine in front of an audience of thousands.
Finally, one thing I heard time and time again from this particular CEO was “God owns it all”. If that is actually true, why is there so much fear in a lowly employee speaking the truth of their time there and the truth of their departure? If an ex-employee truthfully said they had a bad time, or spoke the true reason for their separation, is the image of the company that is ultimately “owned by God” so fragile that it cannot stand up to someone being able to tell the truth?
However, as I read the Scriptures, I don’t see any exclusions to the “God owns it all” principle.
If I want what’s best for my family (or my wealth or my legacy), then I’m going to entrust it to God’s care. I’m grateful to be a steward of all these blessings, but I have to constantly remind myself to hold them all with an open hand.The Legacy Journey, Chapter 6
Why not entrust the handling of the truth to God’s care, instead of the US legal system?