This is the story of my ill-fated time with Anita Lopez at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) in Chicago, Illinois from 2005-2008. It’s a story of two uncommon and very different friendships—hers for me and mine for her.
Anita Lopez and I at the annual BCBSA
employee party, 2008
I’ve asked myself this question several times: How is it possible that I could be fired after a coworker has asked me for a pile of money and I haven’t given it to her, after I’ve stopped spending my personal time with her because of that, and after I’ve politely and fairly critiqued her refusal to work with me on a critical project that was within her job responsibilities? I still don’t know the answer to that. Only BCBSA does.
My friendship for her was all about the feeling I call warmth. Her life is not particularly interesting and she’s not much of a conversationalist, so ordinarily I wouldn’t have spent much time with her. But for some reason, I felt the most extraordinary warmth for her. She knew that, and in the end she tried to take advantage of it for financial gain.
Her friendship for me turned out to be all about attention and money, and it was shaped by a self-absorption so staggering as to be beyond belief. Everyone you meet has some things about them that, in the abstract, you consider to be foibles or outright flaws. But generally you have to take people as you find them, and so it didn’t matter to me that she had that need for attention and money until it turned out to be an all-consuming need.
I’ll put it in its simplest terms: one month before she got me fired, she started asking me to take her to lunch every day and, on top of that, to give her an unsecured loan of a substantial amount of money. I subsequently did not extend that favor to her for two reasons. The first was that it had become clear to me that, because of what she’d recently told me about her current debt, her worsening cash flow, and her reluctance to ask her parents for money, she would be unable to repay the loan on time if at all. Regarding her parents, she said she couldn’t ask them for money because they’re retired and are on a fixed income. What would that matter if she’s going to repay them soon? They could have taken it out of savings one month and put it back in the next month or two. If she had been able to repay them...
The second reason was that I had come to feel that she wasn’t really a friend to me at all, much less the kind of friend I could count on for repayment. When someone’s financial prospect is that bleak, and when you’re not going to be earning any interest on the loan, the only reason for you to lend them any money is that they’re a long-term real friend—that’s their collateral. I’ve loaned money to two people, including one at BCBSA, who in contrast to Ms. Lopez are that kind of friend.
It’s my contention that in her complaint against me she either fabricated things or put a false spin on things in order to get me dismissed straightaway, and that she did this in retaliation for my not giving her the money and for my recent critique of her lack of cooperation on a project at work. I’m guessing she cherry-picked a few e-mails or voice messages and presented them out of context. Well, I’m going to provide the missing context in this website. It’s a pretty safe bet she didn’t go to Human Resources and say, “By the way, I asked him for a pile of money last month and he didn’t give it to me, and now I want to get him fired but it really doesn’t have anything to do with that.” Follow the money...
But then again, she may have told them everything and they then fired me simply to limit their exposure to legal trouble and bad publicity. I’ll never know which it was, but either way it was flat-out wrong.
What kind of person does something like that to someone who has done so much for them and from whom they’ve asked so much? And what kind of company dismisses someone on the spot, after nearly three years of service, without even telling them why? What kind of company takes one person’s word for anything, much less something that’s going to cause them to fire someone who has an exemplary work record? That’s exactly the kind of situation where one person may be lying. Both her manager and my manager knew that she and I spent a lot of time together, and because of that, BCBSA should have looked into things. But they didn’t exert themselves to the point of due diligence. Given my position as a contractor, I suppose they weren’t legally obligated to do that. But with all their talk of ethics, you’d think they’d want to do the right thing.
At first I found it hard to believe that she would lie in order to get me fired. Then I realized I shouldn’t have been too surprised by that. Here was a person who in the preceding months had lied to me in order to get me to spend more and more money on her. Here was a person who recently had asked me for a pile of money she assuredly had no intention of repaying. Why should it surprise me for her to lie in order to get me fired? She would have been disappointed over the loss of what she’d come to expect, as well as resentful of me for taking it from her. Once all the attention and money had come to an end, so, too, had whatever passes as friendship in her world. And that proved I’d been right in thinking her not to be a friend to me. In just one month, she seemed to change from being a person who felt close enough to me to ask me for a pile of money to being a person who hated me enough to get me fired. But nothing turns around on a dime like that. She was in fact the same person at both points in time, a person who all along felt no friendship for me, a person who just wanted stuff from me.
I found it all very disillusioning, very dispiriting. Everyone’s heard stories about things like that happening, but, as with all things, it’s different when it happens to you. For her to have known me so long, for us to have talked about all those things over all those lunches and evening walks, it was unforgivable for her to have done such a thing to me.
As an employer, it’s BCBSA’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace—safe not only in respect to the building and equipment, but also in respect to coworkers. She was the one who asked me to buy her lunch everyday, she was the one who asked me for a pile of cash, and she was the one who refused to work with me when I didn’t do those things for her. And she was an employee whereas I was just a contractor; at BCBSA, there’s a world of difference between the two. Where was BCBSA when all this was going on? They know full well that at their company contract staff can’t safely make any kind of complaint about anything, so their policies should protect their contract staff from abuse by their employees.
In retrospect, I think BCBSA fired me simply to keep me from bringing up anything potentially illegal or unethical about the behavior of their employee, Ms. Lopez—anything that would start a trail of permanent documentation involving either their internal Human Resources and Legal departments or, God forbid, an external governmental agency. Striking first is like the old adage that possession is nine points of the law: I’d already have been dismissed, so whatever I had to say in the future would probably be discounted by everyone.
BCBSA simply wanted to make a potential problem go away as quietly as possible, ethics be damned. Their behavior, as well as that of Ms. Lopez, is reprehensible. Together they damaged my personal and professional reputation, my finances, and my ability to find future employment...all just to cover up their own mess.
I don’t understand why people don’t want to do the right thing more often. In this case, all they had to do was tell her she had to be more cooperative at work and that she had to stop asking me for money. Whether you’re an employee at any level, or a customer, you simply cannot trust a company like this. If Ms. Lopez someday ends up on the wrong side of BCBSA’s political equation, they’ll treat her the same way they treated me.
It’s interesting that the same self-interest, the same self-serving policies and attitude, mark both the employer and the employee. Perhaps they get along well together because of that commonality. I imagine that an employee who tried to do the right thing, when it wasn’t also the easiest thing, would run into a lot of resistance at BCBSA.
But that’s just the ending to the story. All the good stuff is still to come. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed most in life is a good story, one that’s interesting and that gives you something to think about. I hope you will find this to be such a story.
I’m fairly observant so I don’t miss much of what’s going on around me. But my knowledge and reasoning are imperfect, so I’m often wrong in my understanding of things. This website represents my best effort. I’ve included every relevant detail I can remember. Nothing has been made up, left out, exaggerated, minimized, or otherwise altered from its factual basis. Everything that’s presented as a fact either is something I know to be true or is something she portrayed to be true. I’ve left out the names of the people who weren’t weren’t directly involved because it wouldn’t be fair to mention them by name in something like this. But they know who they are, and I’d love to hear from them.
Much of the material in the website goes beyond the mere documentation and explanation of the facts directly related to her getting me fired. Most of that excess is of a larger psychological and philosophical nature, and it’s that stuff that particularly interests me. I’ve tried to work all that into the larger montage of my life.
Start with these phone messages, but once you’ve read the entire story, play them again and you’ll find them funny. I played them for a friend who doesn’t know Ms. Lopez and she said, “Is she fat? All she ever talks about is lunch.” You can almost hear her tummy growling...
The Lunch Tapes
This is the story. Let me know if you’re ever known anyone like her. Of the thousands of people I’ve known one way or another in life, there’s never been another one like her. And if you know her personally or professionally, I’d like to hear how your experiences compare with mine.
This is my take on the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, and on why they helped Ms. Lopez do that to me. Through its network of independent Blue Cross Blue Shield licensees, it provides health insurance for more than 100 million people. Their Federal Employee Program alone covers 5 million people who either are employees of the federal government or are their family members. It’s such a lucrative contract that BCBSA has an officer-level department just to maintain that one relationship. That should give you an idea of the importance of internal and external politics at BCBSA, and why for them a Caucasian male contractor is the easiest thing in the world to let go of.
BCBSA Ethics Fair prize, 2006; for BCBSA, it’s easier said than done
And this is BCBSA’s take on itself. I didn’t see anything in there on their code of ethics, so it’s good that I devoted a little time to that. BCBSA didn’t care that their employee asked me to take her to lunch every day; they didn’t care that she asked me for a pile of cash on top of that; and they didn’t care that after I’d stopped buying her lunch and hadn’t come through with the money, she refused to work with me on a project that was within the scope of her job responsibilities and that management had said was of critical importance. But when she went to management and complained about my critique of her lack of cooperation on that project, then they cared because they were looking at a potentially embarrassing and politically charged situation, and the easiest way around that was to fire the contractor. That is their ethics in practice. But that ducky sure is cute, isn’t he? And for BCBSA, that’s enough.
If you’re one of the millions insured through BCBS, consider asking your insurer if you can kick in a few extra bucks so this kind of thing doesn’t have to happen again. They could put a check box on the enrollment form...Would you like to contribute to the Anita Lopez Lunch Fund? $1☐ $5☐
Don’t let that little bit of humor detract from the serious nature of this website. But you’ve got to have some fun in life, too...
An finally, here are a few selections from a book I’ve been working on for years. Provisionally titled A Part of All Things, it’s about a number of thoughts I’ve had over the years. Eventually I’ll put this material on its own website.
I’d like to hear your thoughts on the content and organization of the website, as well as on my writing style. There are an infinite number of ways to express any given thought, but eventually you have to settle on just one.
I’ve tried to be fair, and it wasn’t hard to do because I’m not getting anything out of all this. I’m not making any money from it, I’m not looking for any action to occur, and I’m not trying to come off a certain way. I just want the story to reach those who might find it interesting. If you find it interesting, share it with your friends.