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Carson Group headquarters in Omaha, Neb.

Lawsuit: Ex-CMO Charges Carson Group With Turning Blind Eye to Sexual Assault

Mary Kate Gulick claimed to be psychologically 'broken like a twig' from Carson’s lack of response to allegations an employee sexually assaulted a conference attendee, according to a lawsuit filed in Nebraska federal court.

Carson Group’s inaction in handling an alleged sexual assault at a conference by a firm employee left its former chief marketing officer psychologically scarred, according to a lawsuit filed in Nebraska federal court Friday.

In her complaint, Mary Kate Gulick claims the firm did not adequately respond to allegations a Carson employee had committed sexual assault and that former CEO Ron Carson made the decision to keep the employee at the company. 

New Carson Group CEO Burt White and former President Teri Shepherd also appear in the complaint.

Gulick’s lawsuit was first reported by Financial Advisor-IQ.

According to the complaint, Gulick approached the then-managing Partner of Wealth Solutions Jamie Hopkins (her direct supervisor) in fall 2022 about “her dissatisfaction with the toxic culture” at Carson. 

At that time, Hopkins allegedly told her that Carson Group’s minority investor no longer wanted her in the CMO role (Gulick won a Industry Award that fall for CMO of the Year). Although not named in the complaint, Bain Capital took a strategic minority investment in Carson in July 2021.

In late 2022, Gulick helped plan and conduct an industry conference where a Carson Group employee allegedly sexually assaulted an attendee. Gulick learned about the complaint from a firm executive, who asked her to help provide emotional support to the victim. At the time, Shepherd assured Gulick the assault “would be handled appropriately.”

But according to Gulick’s complaint, it was not.

Read the complaint

That same month, Gulick traded messages on Microsoft Teams where White, then-managing partner and chief strategy officer, thanked Gulick for “being such a pro (sic) at an org (sic) that isn’t.” 

In subsequent messages, White said he hadn’t been himself since coming to Carson from LPL and felt like he was “fighting against all of what Carson is,” like he was “rejecting a bad organ implant.”

“The question is do I stay long enough to change it—if I even can—or if I even have the energy to do it. We will see what happens,” White wrote in the messages included in Gulick’s complaint. “This firm needs a sharp right turn and frankly, this company is driven horribly.”

According to the complaint, Gulick felt conflicted about staying at Carson despite Hopkins’ continued urging. She didn’t feel comfortable with how the firm handled the alleged sexual assault of their client and that the alleged assailant would not be fired.

According to the complaint, Carson Group Chief of Staff and Human Resources Leader Kelsey Ruwe told Gulick later she disagreed with the decision not to fire the assailant, but “as the decision had been made by Ron Carson himself, she had to support it.”

Hopkins eventually convinced Gulick to stay on board in a senior vice president role, which involved less responsibility. Gulick felt she owed it to the women on her team to remain with the company to protect them, as Carson Group hadn’t taken any “meaningful action” after the alleged assault.

But Gulick was psychologically affected by Carson Group’s inaction, according to the complaint, telling Ruwe in January 2023, “she wasn’t eating, was barely sleeping and was experiencing physical health issues as a result of how the alleged sexual assault at the conference was being handled,” according to the complaint.

Gulick later learned the alleged assailant, who the firm still employed, had been permitted to travel to another conference. A source with knowledge of the situation said the employee in question is no longer with the firm.

“Mary Kate felt that by continuing to allow this individual to travel to conferences, Carson Group was negligently and irresponsibly creating an unnecessary risk to female employees and conference attendees,” the complaint read.

Gulick’s psychological health continued to suffer, and she eventually applied for (and received) intermittent medical leave from Carson. Though White and Shepherd told her that her “pre-conference performance and behavior were exemplary,” she learned in February 2023 that she would only receive 75% of her target bonus for the second half of 2022. 

According to the complaint, Gulick asked for an explanation and was told she “was communicating in a negative way.” She held a meeting that month with White and Shepherd.

“In the meeting, White and Shepherd gave Mary Kate a generic offer of support. Mary Kate told White and Shepherd the company had ‘broken [her] like a twig’ and that she was working with several healthcare professionals to try and put herself back together,” the complaint read.

But the same day, she met with a Carson Group executive about her review. According to the complaint, despite her need for medical leave due to mental health issues, the unnamed executive told Gulick she “had been a disappointment to him over the past months and that she needed to be ‘less emotional’ about work.”

Several months later, on June 6, 2023, White told Gulick she was being fired, the complaint states. White allegedly said Gulick oscillated “between greatness and, I don’t know, unhappiness” and that he didn’t have a set plan but wanted to “exit her” from Carson Group.

“After Mary Kate explained the betrayal she felt when Carson Group refused to do the right thing after the conference and how she felt the company held it against her, had broken her trust in multiple ways and that she was psychologically broken, White told Mary Kate he would need to move up her termination date to the following day,” the complaint read.

In a statement, Carson Group CMO Heather Randolph Carter said the firm would “unequivocally dispute” the allegations, pledging to “vigorously defend” itself against the claims.

“The people of Carson Group are its most important asset, and the organization remains dedicated to ensuring their continued well-being and helping them to achieve their professional goals,” she said.

Gulick later joined FiComm Partners, a marketing agency specializing in the wealth management industry, as an executive vice president of marketing. In the suit, she’s demanding “an amount which will fully and fairly compensate her for her injuries and damages,” including liquidated and punitive damages, attorneys’ fees and “appropriate equitable and injunctive relief,” among others.

Gulick declined to comment and Hopkins did not respond to requests for comment prior to publication. 

Ali Hibbs contributed to this report.

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