Federal Court Reverses Lower Court Ruling for Gay Man Denied Job

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July 6, 2020

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed a lower court decision and revived a lawsuit by Mark Horton, a healthcare sales specialist whose job offer at St. Louis-based Midwest Geriatric Management (MGM) was withdrawn when the employer learned Horton is gay. The appeal was filed by Lambda Legal and co-counsel Mathis, Marifian & Richter, LTD.

Today’s ruling follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision three weeks ago in Bostock v. Clayton County that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  Lambda Legal argued Mark Horton’s case to the Eighth Circuit on April 17, 2019, the day before the Supreme Court held its conference in which it decided to grant review in the Bostock case.  Mr. Horton’s appeal was immediately put on hold awaiting the decision by the Supreme Court.

“When the Supreme Court settled at long last the issue of whether discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status violates Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination because of sex, it was only a matter of time before the Eighth Circuit would apply that new precedent to Mark’s case,” said Greg Nevins, Senior Counsel and Employment Project Director at Lambda Legal. “Mark was clearly qualified, and in fact it was all systems go until management at MGM learned that Mark is gay. As the Supreme Court made clear: when you harass or fire employees or reject applicants because they are LGBTQ, you violate federal law.”  

“The Eighth Circuit sees what happened to me as the same as what happened to Mr. Bostock and the other brave plaintiffs who took our battle all the way to the Supreme Court,” Horton said. “Midwest Geriatric Management basically ended my career. I left my previous job to accept what appeared to be a great offer at MGM, a position that I had been recruited for. When MGM rescinded the offer, suddenly I was jobless. Being able to be open and bring my whole self to my work has been an asset, and I have the track record to prove it.”

In February 2016, Horton, then vice president for sales and marketing for Celtic Healthcare, was approached by an executive search firm hired by Midwest Geriatric Management, a Celtic Healthcare competitor, to fill a similar position at MGM. While Horton was not actively looking to leave Celtic at that time, MGM’s representative persuaded him that it would be worth his while, so Horton decided to apply. After an extensive assessment and interview process, in mid-April, 2016, Horton received a written job offer from MGM’s owners, Judah and Faigie (Faye) Bienstock. Horton accepted the offer on May 4, and received an enthusiastic reply email from Faye Bienstock welcoming Horton to MGM. Based upon both the written offer and the enthusiastic reply, Horton notified Celtic Healthcare that he would be leaving.

In the course of finalizing his start date and tracking the last remaining academic records for MGM’s background check, Horton had several communications with Faye Bienstock, none of which indicated any issue. Then, on May 17, in an email updating Bienstock on the status of the academic records search, Horton revealed he was in a same-sex relationship when he wrote: “My partner has been on me about [my MBA] since he completed his PhD a while back.” Five days later, Bienstock wrote Horton withdrawing the offer of employment.

“This was always the law, and now that the Supreme Court removed all doubt, the Eighth Circuit had little choice but reverse the dismissal of Mark’s case. It is a great day for Mark and LGBTQ employees everywhere,” co-counsel Mark S. Schuver said. “Mark was not actively looking to leave Celtic Healthcare; MGM recruited him. And it was only after receiving the written offer and the enthusiastic emails that Mark notified Celtic he was leaving. And he was certainly not hiding his sexual orientation, nor should he have to. This has been devastating for Mark and his family, and hopefully he now will get the justice he deserves.”

Schuver and Natalie T. Lorenz of Mathis, Marifian & Richter, LTD, represented Horton in the lawsuit filed last August, 2017, in the U.S District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. The lawsuit was dismissed, and Lambda Legal joined the case in its appeal to the Eighth Circuit.

Gregory R. Nevins, Omar Gonzalez-Pagan and Sharon M. McGowan are the attorneys for Lambda Legal in this matter. They are joined by co-counsel Mark S. Schuver and Natalie T. Lorenz, of Belleville, Illinois-based Mathis, Marifian & Richter, LTD.

More information about Lambda Legal’s work on employment protections is available here.