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GuideOne leadership transition comes while discrimination complaint ongoing

A photo of the sign and exterior of the GuideOne Insurance office complex
Business Record

GuideOne Insurance Co. announced last Wednesday that it has named its new CEO. The change comes as the company faces a former senior vice president’s discrimination complaint, in which he alleges the former CEO was ousted for challenging the handling of an investigation that led to the SVP’s termination.

The new CEO, Bernard Hengesbaugh, an 11-year member of GuideOne’s board of directors, fills the chief executive role that was being held on an interim basis since February by the company’s chief counsel, Andy Noga, who filled the role following the departure of Jessica Snyder. Snyder, who joined the company in June 2017 as CEO, abruptly left the company in mid-February.

The leadership change comes amid GuideOne’s defense of a complaint filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on March 29 by Mark Groenheide, who led a specialty division of the company, according to documents reviewed by the Business Record that are not public. He alleges in the EEOC complaint that GuideOne launched a compliance investigation into him and later fired him after company officials learned in the fall that he is bisexual.

Groenheide also alleges that Snyder’s support of him during the company’s investigation of his alleged wrongdoing led to her termination. Snyder declined to comment for this article.

When asked why Snyder left the company, officials wrote in an email that she “is no longer employed by GuideOne. The parties have resolved any differences that may have existed between them.”

GuideOne also sent the Business Record a written statement in response to Groenheide’s complaint.

“GuideOne is a trusted insurer for religious institutions and other insureds and we are committed to acting with the highest level of ethical conduct,” the statement read. “A former disgruntled employee is raising unfounded allegations against us and one of our leaders. We will vigorously defend ourselves against each one of these allegations in the appropriate forum. We are dedicated to meeting the high expectations of our employees, insured, and business partners just as we have for the past 75 years.”

The EEOC is currently investigating the complaint, which alleges discrimination and retaliation against Groenheide by GuideOne and Noga.

Background and timeline

Groenheide was put on administrative leave in December due to early findings from an internal investigation that the company said was related to compliance, after two employees reported concerns about his actions in November. He states in the EEOC complaint that his attendance at a political event for gay members of the Republican Party in early November “appears to have been the final straw” for Noga, who is specifically named in the complaint and who Groenheide believes is the one who wanted him out of the company.

Groenheide was informed on Feb. 14 by his counsel that the compliance investigation had concluded and that the “complaints against Mr. Noga were found to be unsubstantiated.” Groenheide was fired from the company on Feb. 15. The company cited three reasons, according to the complaint: “Violation of his Letter of Authority; abuse of the Company’s travel and expense policy; and unprofessional and unbecoming conduct.”

According to the EEOC complaint, Groenheide said that he initially used the company’s anonymous hotline and subsequently filed a formal written complaint about discrimination internally with the company in mid-January. In the complaint he detailed specific instances of alleged bias against him, mishandling of the compliance investigation against him and “why he believed the investigation was, in reality, a pretext for discrimination based on his sexual orientation.”

According to his complaint, Noga treated him well until finding out he was bisexual and then “became progressively more disrespectful and demeaning” toward Groenheide. Despite this, Noga was part of the compliance investigation, the complaint says.

Groenheide alleges in his complaint to the EEOC that the compliance investigation was “handled materially differently than other contemporaneous investigations into non-LGBTQ+ employees accused of comparable or more serious misconduct.”

Groenheide’s complaint also includes a sworn affidavit signed by Jessica Snyder’s husband, Rick Snyder, which alleges that she was terminated from GuideOne in retaliation for her opposition to Noga continuing to lead the investigation of Groenheide. In that affidavit, Rick Snyder alleges that he had material evidence about Noga’s alleged bias against Groenheide based on his sexual orientation, but that he was not contacted as part of the company’s investigation.

Noga was named interim CEO after Snyder’s departure in February.

Groenheide was hired in 2019 as senior vice president of specialty insurance, and was promoted after a year with the company to the additional role of president of CGA Insurance Services, a subsidiary of the 75-year-old insurance company, which until three years ago had focused its business on insuring churches.

According to the complaint he filed, during his time with GuideOne Groenheide generated more than $400 million in new revenue for the company, and his performance garnered generous annual bonus payments and positive reviews from company leaders.

The specialty line of business, which Groenheide led, has been very successful and profitable, according to the company. GuideOne announced in May that its specialty insurance division would be renamed GuideOne E&S, and that the excess and surplus marketplace book of business grew to $280 million in 2021. Company officials said that the specialty line of business is now “one of the three pillars within the organization along with Core Commercial and Programs.”

Groenheide is now senior vice president and director of specialty insurance programs at New Paradigm Group LLC in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The company announced he had been hired Feb. 17, according to a press release, which was two days after he was fired from GuideOne.

New leadership

The new CEO Hengesbaugh has been a member of GuideOne’s board of directors for the past 11 years. He most recently was chief operating officer of the American Medical Association, a role he held for more than 17 years. Earlier in his career, he worked for CNA Financial Corp. in various underwriting and leadership roles for 23 years, culminating in his becoming the company’s CEO in December 1999. He retired from CNA in 2004.

Noga will continue in his role as the company’s chief counsel, the company said.

“The Board appreciates Andy’s dedication and leadership during a pivotal time for our company,” Lynn Horak, non-executive board chairman of GuideOne’s board, said in a press release. “Bernie’s expertise in leading a large insurance company and his longtime dedication as board member of GuideOne made him the perfect choice to become our next CEO.”

Hengesbaugh said in the release: “I am excited about this new opportunity and look forward to working with this talented team as we drive toward underwriting excellence. In my time with the Board, I have watched GuideOne evolve and diversify to meet the changing demands of the market.”

What’s next for the complaint

Complaints of discrimination due to sexual orientation are not uncommon in Iowa. Over the past fiscal year, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission closed out 48 cases involving alleged discrimination by employers due to sexual orientation or gender identity of the employee. Of those cases, 29 complainants were either issued a right to sue by the commission or were reported to have reached a “satisfactory adjustment” by the employer.

The EEOC may take action in regard to Groenheide’s complaint, which would then become public information, or Groenheide may choose to request a right to sue GuideOne privately in state or federal court.