— Noah Fairbanks (@NoahFairbanks) January 8, 2015
Blue Shield of California’s former chief technology officer was fired for questionable expenses and breaching the insurer’s code of conduct due to his involvement with a company event in which risque photos were taken of his then-girlfriend, actress Tara Reid, BSC’s chief human resources testified Monday.
Mary Margaret O’Hara defended her recommendation to fire Aaron Kaufman two years after he was hired, calling it a joint decision with two other BSC executives, including the plaintiff’s boss at the time, Michael Mathias.
Mathias hired Kaufman and was the insurer’s senior vice president and chief information officer.
O’Hara said Kaufman’s job loss had nothing to do with his allegations that he was terminated in retaliation for exposing possible kickbacks Mathias was receiving from a vendor or due to his mere association with the “American Pie” actress.
“Mr. Kaufman was not terminated for who he was dating,” O’Hara testified.
Kaufman was hired in March 2013 as Blue Shield’s vice president and chief technology officer at an annual salary of $350,000, and brought many innovative ideas to the company that saved $60 million, according to his lawyer.
Attorney David Peter Cwiklo said his client became concerned when Mathias gave a tech data collection contract to tech vendor MBI Solutions — a company that Mathias had also given work to when he worked at Aetna Insurance — without having the project put out for bid as usual.
MBI continually missed deadlines on the Blue Shield project and did generally poor work, according to Cwiklo. Kaufman told Mathias he could get the same job done through another vendor at a cost of $1.5 million, $3 million less than what MBI was charging, Cwiklo said.
But Mathias rejected Kaufman’s idea and blamed him for problems with the project, Cwiklo said. The attorney said Kaufman became so concerned that he asked for a meeting in early March 2015 with Blue Shield CEO Paul Markovich, but that meeting was canceled.
Before Kaufman could attend his rescheduled meeting with Markovich and a day prior to when he was scheduled to receive a bonus, the plaintiff was suspended — and later fired — after being questioned about his use of his company credit card to pay for personal expenses, Cwiklo said.
But O’Hara testified that in her communications with Kaufman, he never mentioned any allegations he had concerning Mathias and MBI or that his scheduled meeting with Markovich was canceled.
One of Kaufman’s questionable expenses was for a trip to Australia in 2014, where he claimed to have attended a health conference at the G20 summit at the recommendation of former Apple CEO John Sculley, according to O’Hara.
Mathias previously testified that he approved Kaufman’s flight expenses, thinking that he was actually ending the conference.
In fact, there was no such conference at the summit and Sculley did not know Kaufman, according to BSC attorneys, and Kaufman actually went to Australia to join Reid during a premiere of her movie, “Charlie’s Farm.”
O’Hara said Kaufman hurt BSC’s reputation because of his association with an event in which photographs were taken of Reid, including one while she was straddling two bowling balls at the Lucky Strike Lanes in San Francisco in January 2015.
Even though Kaufman was not in the photo and there was no mention of BSC in the image, he organized the team-building event and was responsible for the participants’ conduct, she said. The incident and photos caused negative internal chatting within the company and publicity in the media, O’Hara said.
“We felt that he (Kaufman) was not a good role model,” O’Hara said.
Reid’s appearance with the bowling balls was related to her appearance in the 1998 film “The Big Lebowski,” in which she portrayed the young trophy wife of a character in the film, according to Cwiklo.
–City News Service
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