Not to mislead, but the only sex in this story is metaphorical, yet apropos given the circumstances. It turns out there is a difference between “practicing safe sex” and “practicing SAIF sex”. Those “practicing safe sex” have taken precautions to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancies resulting from intimate sexual contact.
Those “practicing SAIF sex” take precautions in the event legal action results after someone gets screwed.
And documents from the company indicate the board and others knew their actions against John Plotkin were likely to produce a wrongful termination suit. The first clue is simply the published agenda (available here) for the May 9th meeting where Plotkin was to be terminated. The first item of the Executive Session, which was closed to the public, was "Discuss potential or anticipated litigation". The second item was "Discuss records exempt from public inspection".
It might appear an odd agenda for a well documented, justifiable termination. However, we are a litigious society, and it is always prudent to prepare for the worst. For me the indicator of how thin the evidence was against Plotkin was the time they took to discuss these topics. Scheduled for 15 minutes, they took over an hour and a half. Sounds like some of their ducks needed to be hammered into that row.
Even immediately after the meeting there was early indication that executives involved knew the company might face potential litigation. On Sunday, May 11th, two days after Plotkin was terminated, an email exchange between VP's Ryan Fleming and Chris Davie made this starkly apparent (available here). Davie asked Fleming if he would be available by phone, indicating in the exchange that he believed they "need some legal advice pre-litigation". Interestingly, Fleming noted in the exchange that he was "really struggling with what happened in the board meeting and the direct talks, and I am not ready for much yet."
While I have no idea what may have been the catalyst for Fleming's internal struggle, I know the specter of a couple hundred employees (forced to use vacation time) showing up to support the man you were instrumental in getting terminated can't be a great feeling. Definitely not a Kodak moment.
Interestingly, an intimidation complaint that emerged from Plotkins termination shows just how inconsistent the handling of personnel concerns is at SAIF. In the source documents (available here, which we have redacted to protect the department and identity of the employee) an employee files a complaint that VP Davie made him uncomfortable by "staring" at him during a display of support for Plotkin at that meeting. We see in the follow up emails that HR's apparent solution was to send this employee to speak directly with the man he complained about, where they “resolved” the issue. While I question the wisdom of letting the accused address the complaint, I also note that Plotkin did not get the opportunity to discuss his "transgressions" with any accuser. He wasn't even told who they were. In fact, he wasn't told there was a problem until his resignation was requested.
Of course, that could account for the 1 hour and 37 minutes the board spent hammering those possible litigation ducks into position. Perhaps they knew that their pending action was largely based on vaporware.
I should note, that for many of us, a complaint about "staring" might seem a tad, well, oversensitive. I believe this is a reflection of the culture at SAIF, and the perverse PC dogma that has been forced on that organization for many years. I have had discussions with several current and former SAIF employees as this story has unfolded, and one thing is clear; even blinking aggressively in that company can get you in trouble. (Read this story from a former SAIFer recounting the time he made fun of his own weight, and someone filed a complaint that he was making fun of fat people)
The phone records still present the greatest mystery in the buildup and immediate aftermath of the Plotkin termination (Not all records have yet been released). While we have no way to know or even conjecture what the dialogue may have been, they are interesting given the suspicions of employees toiling at SAIF.
VP Davie and Former CEO Brenda Rocklin appear to have spoken by phone no less than 95 times during and immediately after Plotkins time with the company. This includes a 66 minute call from Davie's cell on 5/10, the day after Plotkins termination, and a whopping 71 minute call on 5/15.
VP Fleming was very active on the phone, speaking to Rocklin at least 8 times and Colleen Sealock twice during the same period, and having a flurry of calls with all board members and the Department of Justice starting around April 29thup through mid-May. He had more than two dozen calls with Board members Van Cleave, Jensen and Balasubramani combined over that period, and spoke with board chair Cathy Travis over 60 times. He also called the DOJ almost 40 times during that period.
May 3rd, the day Plotkin was first asked to resign, was interesting, as Fleming appears to have engaged in 35 phone calls that day. In addition to a slew of calls between Travis and the DOJ, he also had an 8 minute, 17 second call with Brenda Rocklin at 1:37 in the afternoon. At 5:18 PM he had a 53 second call with Rocklin, then what appears to be a 3 minute, 45 second call with Plotkin via his cell phone at 5:23PM, and then at 5:28PM was back on the phone with Rocklin for 14 minutes, 52 seconds. Immediately after that call, he ended the day with a 23 minute call to Cathy Travis.
I will likely publish these logs in the future, so people can view and form their own opinions, but they are going to take some effort to redact to make sure no complete numbers are visible.
So, the lingering questions remain: Why so many calls with people who were not ostensibly connected to the situation? Why so many calls to DOJ for a justifiable termination over inappropriate language? Why no calls to John Plotkin starting April 29th and during the run up to the request for his resignation? And is it common for a corporate VP to routinely make so many calls to his company's Board Chair and other members?
Does that seem off to anybody, or am I just tilting at windmills?
One could easily surmise that the players in this melodrama did not feel as if they were on the most solid of employment footings with their actions. The phone records and emails certainly do not convey that image. But ultimately what was said in all those calls, and in that closed Executive Session, can only be left to our imaginations.
And the Plotkin thickens……
For a list of Bob's other SAIF/Plotkin articles (as well as a couple old AASCIF articles that get picked up in the search), Click here.
Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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