A church insurer nestled in West Des Moines, Iowa, has found itself at the center of controversy after a former senior staff member alleged he was subject to discrimination due to his sexuality, and was unfairly dismissed after he raised concerns.
Groenheide, now senior vice president and director of specialty insurance programs at New Paradigm, was forced out of GuideOne on February 14 under, as he tells it, a cloud of uncertainty and following alleged discriminatory behaviour towards him by a senior member of staff – accusations the insurer has strongly denied.
The underwriting veteran has publicly alleged that current GuideOne acting CEO Andy Noga, at the time general counsel for the carrier, called him a “f*ggot” at a public dinner and embarked on a “vigorous” personal campaign against him that led to his dismissal days before he was due a bumper bonus payout.
Noga declined to talk to Insurance Business due to a pressing personal matter, but GuideOne has strongly denied Groenheide’s allegations.
His achievements at the insurer included the launch of GuideOne subsidiary Career General Agency’s managing general underwriter.
Noga was initially pleasant, Groenheide told Insurance Business, but that changed when he was made aware of Groenheide’s sexuality in June 2021 after Groenheide had been outed as bisexual during divorce proceedings.
The SVP was put under investigation in early December, and placed on administrative leave in late January. Groenheide claimed this was after he had made an internal complaint about Noga’s treatment of him at the November public dinner event, which Groenheide said was witnessed by at least one other person who allegedly testified in his favour in an affidavit.
Groenheide alleged that he was not informed why he was placed under investigation but was quizzed on specifics after he had been locked out of his company computer, with no access to information.
“It was like a kangaroo court in which you’re accused of an unknown thing,” Groenheide said.
“You’re guilty until you’re proven innocent – and you’d have no opportunity to even discuss the things you’re accused of because they’re never shared with you.”
Lori Chapel, GuideOne director, marketing and corporate communications, told Insurance Business that the former SVP was let go for exceeding his letter of authority, failing to secure reinsurance on certain accounts, and submitting improper expenses.
Groenheide has denied this was the rationale behind his exit from the business, and has claimed that he was pushed out and blamed for others’ shortcomings.
“That would be the equivalent of someone operating a truck, drinking beer, getting into an accident, then reporting that accident, and the CEO got fired, but not the drunk driver,” Groenheide said.
Groenheide has also claimed that key witnesses were not called during the investigation.
GuideOne has disputed Groenheide’s account. The insurer’s spokesperson said that an independent third-party investigator, a former US Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, investigated the allegations of bias and discrimination and determined they were unfounded.
GuideOne further alleged that Groenheide’s allegations around sexual discrimination did not surface until after he was placed on administrative leave.
In the four months since getting the boot from the business, Groenheide has taken to social media to raise awareness of his alleged situation, actively targeting GuideOne board members and directors with LinkedIn posts and sharing documents that he claims show he was unfairly treated.
Member of GuideOne’s board, which includes Alliant Energy and Renaissance Re board member Carol Sanders and Insurance Information Institute president Robert Hartwig, did not respond to a request for comment on Groenheide’s social media activity or allegations.
GuideOne told Insurance Business that Groenheide’s actions on social media were “suspect and egregious” and pledged that the insurer will respond fully to them “in the proper forum”, though it stopped short of confirming whether it would be bringing legal action.
“The social media campaign questioning our company’s values and code of conduct by a former employee continues. His initial allegations stem from his termination and have broadened to include colleagues and confidential company matters,” the spokesperson said.
Groenheide alleged: “It seems to me like they just don’t like a light being shown on the truth. Because if I was lying, they would have already sued me.”
The former GuideOne SVP is pursuing a claim through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – and has pledged that he will continue to campaign around his situation and use his platform to raise awareness of difficulties faced by other LGBTQ+ individuals in insurance companies across the US.
“Tons of people have come to me with their stories since [I went public] and it’s disgusting what still goes on in corporate America,” Groenheide said. “Thank God I have the resources and the support network to be able to fight back, but there are probably hundreds of other people who have experienced the same thing.
“If they can marginalize me then they can do it to anybody.”