Gregory Gilmore loved his $40,000-a-year job as an assistant manager at Restoration Hardware in the Fashion Mall of Indianapolis. He’d worked there since 2006, when he and his partner moved back to Indy from Kentucky in order to be closer to family. He appreciated that the upscale furniture chain offered domestic-partner benefits and that he could be openly gay among several other gay colleagues, in an environment where it seemed perfectly okay to talk about one’s same-sex companion or spouse.
“I liked the people and the product,” says Gilmore, 40. He says he served as acting store manager for six months, was sent to other cities to train new managers, and even was the first in his store to win a national-level service award. “I was really good at making morale happen and drumming up positivity,” he says. “I’d foreseen myself moving up.”
Everything changed around midnight on a Saturday in February 2012, when Gilmore participated in a naked-butt contest at 501 Eagle, a local gay bar. He didn’t show off his naked butt live; he let someone take a Polaroid of it and then display it alongside others at the bar. It happened that some colleagues came into the bar that night, too. Gilmore laughingly told them of his participation. “I didn’t win,” he notes wryly, “which only adds insult to injury to what happened next.”
Two weeks later, his boss called him. “We want to talk to you about what happened last Saturday night,” he says she told him. She’d overheard staff talking about the contest in a lighthearted way and asked Gilmore if it was true. He was suspended with pay and sent home, with no particular rationale. The very next day, he was summoned to a conference call with his regional manager. “They said, ‘Based on conversations we had with the executive vice president of sales, we’re terminating your employment,’” he recalls.
Gilmore’s termination notice, which he shared with me over e-mail, said he’d been fired for engaging “in behavior that violates our Standards of Conduct policy…as well as our Core Values: engaging in horseplay, disorderly conduct, malicious mischief or violation of common sense rules is unacceptable.” No such language appeared among the list of firing infractions in the copy of the company’s handbook that Gilmore also shared. Nor does the handbook specify whether the conduct policy applies to both on- and off-the-clock behavior.
So was Gilmore fired because his off-hours frolics were gay in nature? Restoration Hardware did not respond to several requests for comment. Gilmore says that at no point did his managers explicitly object to the fact that his behavior took place in a gay bar. But he also says that he socialized regularly with both straight and gay colleagues and there’d been all sorts of off-site shenanigans, including underage drinking and colleague hookups. A former co-worker, a gay man who asked not to be named, told me that Gilmore’s firing, which management refused to explain to workers, put enough of a chill on their store to prod him to leave for a job in another state. “I thought, what if I’m making out with a guy in a bar one night and a colleague walks in and tells on me?”