"Diary of a Gay Wage Slave" concludes with Part Five.
DIARY OF A GAY WAGE SLAVE: PART FOUR
This is a record of my experiences working for a large midwestern corporation between November 2007 and October 2009. It is told from my point of view. The people I mention in this story may remember these events differently than I do. I'm sharing it here to shed light on the nature of gender expression discrimination in the American workplace. Names have been changed to protect the guilty.
"Out of the Office"
-On 10/23, I contacted the online Coalition against Insurance Fraud. I left a message in their blog comments section appealing for help. A Coalition member responded to me via email, directing me to seek legal representation from a whistleblower law firm called Phillips and Cohen. The firm is based in Washington, DC. I contacted Phillips and Cohen through their online case evaluation form.
-On 10/25, the CBS network newsmagazine “60 Minutes” telecast an exposé on insurance fraud. I saw it as an opportunity. On 10/26, I mailed details of my experiences at "Hydra" Health Systems to CBS News in a certified letter. However, I never got a response back from them.
-On 10/27, I sent a letter by certified mail to "Mr. BigStuff", CEO of "OctoCorp" Systems, "Hydra's" parent company. It detailed what had happened to me and urged him to investigate. I sent the letter to his offices at "Wabash Cannonball", an "OctoCorp" affiliate. I enclosed a printout of the online case evaluation form I completed at the Phillips and Cohen law firm website.
-Between 10/27 and 11/27, I would send three letters in all to "Mr. BigStuff", but the only response I got was a threatening message from "Cannonball's" general counsel, telling me to stop sending mail to their offices. This message falsely stated that "OctoCorp" and "Wabash Cannonball" were not affiliated. "Wabash Cannonball" was the founder of "OctoCorp".
-On 10/26 at approximately 1:00 PM, I returned to the Human Resources building to retrieve my personal belongings. I took my friend, Dr. Lester Blue, Jr. for moral support. The receptionist (not the same one who had been kind to me on 10/20) gave me my belongings in a cardboard box with a sheaf of papers taped to the top. She said I needed to sign the papers. By now, I realized that "Hydra" was trying to make it look as if I had resigned, so I refused; I wouldn't even look at them.
-She then removed the papers from the top of the box, I picked the box up, and Dr. Blue and I left the building. When I opened the box at home, I found that none of my employee manuals, which trainees are allowed to keep, had been returned to me. (Weeks later, I realized that "Hydra" had also failed to return a large black umbrella I always kept at work, and a box of magnets I had purchased for my cubicle walls.) I also found that my vintage movie posters had been crudely stuck together with tape. Somehow, I managed to separate the posters without destroying them. Seldom have I ever felt as angry as I did then!
-On 10/30, my final paycheck was direct-deposited in my checking account. "Hydra" had only paid me for the days I worked before "Mr. Greedhead" banned me from the work area. "HatchetWoman" told me I'd be paid out my two-week's notice, but this paycheck didn't include that calculation. In fact, it was short! I’d been fired in the middle of a pay period, and the check was $200.00 less than the usual amount. There wasn't enough money in it to pay my rent; I had to borrow what I needed.
-Over a month would pass before I got any two-week's notice payment. "Hydra" didn't send me the money until after it had convinced the Missouri Division of Employment Security to deny my application for unemployment benefits! Even then, the funds were meted out in installments, so I never received a full paycheck. This action on their part seemed vindictive, retaliatory and uncalled-for. That's not the worst of it, either: In addition to delaying payment, "Hydra" cheated me! Through payroll deduction, I had paid for and was due a Kansas City Metro bus pass for the month of November. They never sent it.
-Getting fired in such a ruthless manner left me devastated. On 11/2, I called the Kansas City Free Health Clinic and did an intake over the telephone for mental health and medication services(as indicated earlier, I have high blood pressure). I was put on a waiting list for these services. Later, I would call the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and do a new intake for services through them. An appointment was not obtainable until January 2010.
-On 11/3, I met with an attorney named G. David Porter. He gave me a free consultation at a local Kansas City coffee shop. After listening to part of my story, Mr. Porter said I had very little chance of success in court. He was particularly critical of my decision to conceal my illness from "Hydra" personnel. Mr. Porter would later decline to represent me in an action against "Hydra" Health Systems.
-On 11/4, a representative of Phillips and Cohen contacted me via email. The email was to inform me that the firm had declined to accept my case. I contacted over 30 attorneys via email or telephone, but every one of them refused to represent me. One lawyer, Mike Fitzgerald, even accused me of lying about what had happened! Another, Larry Schumaker, advised me to represent myself in court; but when I requested a consultation so he could explain what I needed to do, he refused to give me one. Even Legal Aid of Western Missouri turned me down. I concluded that these law firms were all afraid to go up against "Hydra" and its formidable parent company.
-On 11/5, I received both an email and a posted letter from "HatchetWoman" at "Hydra" Human Resources. Both messages, dated 11/3, were the same. Both feigned ignorance of the events that prompted me to contact "Mr. BigStuff", and purported to initiate an investigation into them. "HatchetWoman" requested information from me that I had already provided to her when we met on 10/20! She said I needed to respond to her requests by 11/11/09. On 11/9, having failed to obtain legal advice or representation, I responded with an email in which I condemned her deceitfulness and demanded that she leave me alone. Later that day, I got a second email from "HatchetWoman" stating that she was "out of the office" until 11/16.
-On 11/8, I applied for unemployment benefits through the online system of Missouri's Division of Employment Security. I expected that "Hydra" would contest my right to draw unemployment, and sure enough, they did. Payment was withheld while the Division made its decision.
-On 11/9, "Mr. PitBull", an attorney representing "Mr. BigStuff", sent me the threatening letter I referred to earlier. It requested that I stop writing "Mr. BigStuff" at the "Wabash Cannonball" address. "Mr. PitBull" claimed that "Wabash Cannonball" and "Hydra"/"OctoCorp" are not affiliated companies, which is an untrue statement; their relationship is acknowledged on the "OctoCorp" website. "Mr. PitBull" did not indicate what address I should write to, nor did he address my concerns about wrongdoing at "Hydra" Health Systems. For all the good it ended up doing, I forwarded him the email I'd received from "HatchetWoman" and my response to it. I also forwarded those emails to Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II.
-On 11/11, on the advice of an NAACP attorney named Michael Bates, I sent a certified letter to "Mr. Greedhead". My letter cited a Missouri labor statute (290.140.1) that requires an employer to provide an employee with written justification for job termination. It was sent to the "Hydra" Building. I forwarded copies (mistakenly addressed to "Mr. BigStuff") to Congressman Cleaver, the Missouri Division of Employment Security, the Coalition against Insurance Fraud and various media outlets. A few days later, I received a signed certified mail receipt which confirmed that my letter was delivered on 11/13/09.
-On 11/23, having still not secured new employment, I applied for food stamp benefits at the offices of Missouri's Department of Social Services. The caseworker I spoke with, Martha Armenta, said I qualified for expedited benefits. However, she needed to know the amount of my final "Hydra" paycheck. I could only give her an estimate, since I didn't recall the exact amount and "Hydra" hadn't sent me a pay stub for that final check. (Employees accessed pay stubs on the "Hydra" intranet system, but I couldn't access the intranet after my termination.) Ms. Armenta had me fill out release forms so that she could contact "Hydra" Health Systems and obtain the information directly from them.
-After I arrived home from the Department of Social Services, I got a call from Martha Armenta. She said that "Hydra" had refused to release the amount of my final paycheck to her. They told her I would have to pay them $15.00 before they would release it! They also gave her a phone number, and instructed her to have me call it and speak to "Hydra" officials.
-I both called the phone number and emailed "HatchetWoman's" assistant "Clarissa", requesting a mailed copy of my final check stub. I also communicated with "Hydra's" Payroll department by phone and email. There was never any mention of a $15.00 fee. I was first told that a copy would be sent to me via email, and then that it would be sent via regular mail. However, "Hydra" never did send a pay stub for my October 30 check.
-On 11/25, I downloaded an online questionnaire from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. I wanted to learn whether the circumstances surrounding my termination from "Hydra" Health Systems met criteria for an EEOC retaliation complaint(I was later informed that they did not). I mailed the completed questionnaire to the local EEOC office on 11/27.
-Around this time, I also sent another letter to "Mr. BigStuff"; contacted Kansas City's Office of Human Relations to inquire about filing a sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit; and alerted Senators Claire McCaskill and Christopher "Kit" Bond about my troubles with "Hydra". (Ms. McCaskill later responded with a letter in which she curtly told me it wasn't her job to investigate such matters. She directed me to get a Legal Aid lawyer. I'll remember that letter when election time rolls around.)
-On the evening of 11/25, over a month after terminating my employment, "Hydra" Health Systems deposited a little less than $600 into my checking account. The amount deposited was far less than what I earned for two week's work. I did not find out about this deposit until 11/27; when I was communicating with "Hydra" Payroll, they did not inform me that it was pending. On 11/28, I emailed "Clarissa" demanding an explanation for this payment. She did not reply.
-Between 11/28 and 11/30 I exchanged emails with a "Hydra" Payroll employee named "Stacy". She stated that the payment was my two-week's notice lump sum. I told her that wasn't true, because the amount was less than I would have made for two weeks of work. She replied that the remainder would be sent to me as a mailed check. I received this check, dated 11/30 and with check stub attached, on the second day of December.
-"Stacy" had no coherent explanation for why it took over a month to receive these payments, why a pay period had passed with no payment to me at all, or why the payments were sent to me in installments. I suspect either my applications for unemployment and food stamps, the frantic letters I wrote to "Mr. BigStuff" or both made "Hydra" suddenly reverse a decision not to pay me the promised two weeks. The immediate effect of that reversed decision was to cancel payment of any food stamp or unemployment benefits to me for at least two weeks.
-On 12/3, I sent a copy of my (final?) check stub to Social Services caseworker Martha Armenta, with copies forwarded to Senators Claire McCaskill and Christopher "Kit" Bond.
-On 12/4, I checked the online status of my application for unemployment benefits and learned that it had been denied. "Hydra" had succeeded in convincing the Division of Employment Security that I had willingly left my job! I immediately made plans to appeal the decision, but felt less than hopeful about my chances of reversing it.
-By now, I had accumulated quite a bit of material: emails, posted correspondence, and an early draft of this diary. On 12/4 and 12/5, I emailed and posted copies of my documentation to Humana, Carefirst, Blue Shield of California, FutureScripts and several other of "Hydra" Health Systems' insurance company clients. I did so because of the lack of response I had gotten from attorneys, the media, the Division of Insurance and every other authority I'd contacted for help. Clearly, the only entities likely to care about prescription drug claim fraud were those who were directly affected by it. Early on, I had considered doing this, but I worried that it would look like an act of revenge. I decided to do it only as my last resort. Now, unfortunately, I had come to that point.
-Late on Friday, 12/11, an email was sent to me by "Bunny Bullsh*t", a Human Resources official at "Hydra". This email purported to explain "payroll processing errors" that had delayed payment of my severance funds(it didn't). It also claimed that "Hydra" had now paid me in full(which the company still hasn't done)!
-"Bunny Bullsh*t" also attempted to draw me into a supposed internal "Hydra" investigation of insurance fraud. She asked me several minutely detailed questions about fraudulent override requests from pharmacists. Via email, I sent a response, with an abbreviated copy of this diary attached to it. I told "Bunny" that if she expected me to participate in internal "Hydra" investigations, I would have to be rehired and compensated for my time spent unemployed. I added that I had yet to receive any communication from the person unaffiliated with "Hydra" who, according to my employee manual, was tasked with investigating my 10/20/09 ethics complaint.
-On Monday, 12/13, I sent a copy of "Bunny's" letter to the Missouri Attorney General's office, as well as to several insurance companies that contract with "Hydra" for services. I included in these mailings copies of letters previously sent to me by "HatchetWoman" and attorney "PitBull". I also included a letter of my own which identified absurd and mendacious statements in the enclosed correspondence.
-On 12/18, I received a response to my 11/11 request for a service letter from "Hydra" Customer Service director "Mr. Greedhead", the man against whom I'd filed an ethics complaint and who'd fired me in retaliation. The response came in the form of an email attachment that could not be copied.
-Angrily, "Mr. Greedhead" refused to directly answer the questions I'd posed to him about my termination, and mendaciously portrayed my exit from "Hydra" as a voluntary resignation. Minutes later, I received an exasperated email from "Bunny Bullsh*t"; obviously, the mailings had been timed to overlap upon arrival. Expressing outrage at my refusal to assist in her bogus fraud investigation, "Bunny" stated that it was "inappropriate" for "Hydra" to rehire me. She added (somewhat cattily, I thought) that she was too busy to speak to me again until after the first of the year. In my emailed reply, I told her not to bother contacting me again.
-I replied to "Mr. Greedhead" with these words: On October 20,2009, your crony "HatchetWoman" urged me to resign. Today, I urge you to do the same! Act, before your email to me regarding insurance fraud comes back to haunt you. Mark my words, the truth about what you, "WitchHazel" and "HatchetWoman" have done will come out. It's just a matter of time. I attached a copy of the email in question to my reply. Within ten minutes, I received an automated out-of-office email alert from "Mr. Greedhead". It was reminiscent of how he had avoided meeting with me during my final weeks as a "Hydra" employee.
-I told the Division of Employment Security in no uncertain terms that I had neither resigned nor wanted to resign from my job, and that I would return to "Hydra" if asked to. Against the odds, I briefly considered going back and helping honest administrators root out wrongdoers in the company. Those emails from "Bunny Bullsh*t" and "Mr. Greedhead" shocked me back to reality. There'd be no going back! "Mr. Greedhead" was still in charge; apparently, he hadn't been disciplined at all. Ethically speaking, "Bunny" was nothing but a clone of "HatchetWoman". Even more disturbing was the fact that weeks had passed with no contact from any legitimate ethics investigator. The company hadn't changed its hostile stance toward me, and it never would.
-I was foolish to think there could be any honest administrators at "Hydra" Health Systems; even supervisors I trusted ("Sherry", "Dee Dee") had turned against me. Everything I'd experienced at "Hydra" pointed to one inescapable conclusion: That the entire operation was, and is, corrupt! I think "Hydra" Health Systems is a greedy corporation whose prime objective is milking insurance companies. I think it accomplishes this objective largely by exploiting and intimidating its workers. It tolerates workplace harassment, manipulates performance standards and, if my experience was typical, encourages Medicare fraud. For such a corporation, ethics is a word without meaning, and internal ethics reviews are a joke! The most recent butt of that joke was a naïve man named Donny C. Hampton.
"Diary of a Gay Wage Slave" concludes with Part Five.