Man, do the wheels of justice turn slowly. After all, it was almost three years ago, in May of 2014, when John Plotkin, the new CEO of SAIF Corporation, Oregon's state owned workers' compensation insurer, was terminated after just three months on the job. The debacle that followed is known to many in our industry. Finally, at long last and none too soon for the hundreds of SAIF employees that stood up and fought for their former boss, the lawsuit over that event is finally scheduled for trial – and closure.
The parties will attend a pre-trial conference on January 17th. I understand that both sides have requested a Summary Judgement, so there is a possibility that the entire sordid incident could end at that time. If they do not receive that, the trial will begin on January 31, 2017.
For those who have followed the story, it is difficult to believe that the lawsuit has gone this far, and taken this long. If the judge is to issue a judgement in the matter, we certainly hope they've taken a good long look at the same evidence we've had a chance to review over the last 3 years.
As I see it, there are several points that need to be decided. Was John Plotkin terminated legally? Was his character and reputation unfairly damaged in the process? Most importantly, and directly tied to the legality question; Did the SAIF Board of Directors violate the open meeting laws of the state by deciding to terminate him outside of a public meeting?
No one knows what the court will decide, but we certainly know what the preponderance of evidence already made public tells us. The accusations against John Plotkin, made during a sloppy “investigation” quickly fell apart after the termination. People identified as making certain comments and accusations vehemently denied the stories attributed to them. Most of the evidence was of a third party nature – a “someone said they heard that someone else said this” sort of affair.
Corporate emails and telephone records indicated to the casual observer that a great deal of coordination likely occurred between the parties involved in the Plotkin termination. There were planning scenarios looking at potential outcomes of different types of separation. There were stories generated regarding how the employees should be lied to. Plotkin was prevented from coming to the office, and his access to emails and the corporate network were cut off. Telephone logs show an interesting trail of communication between (then) current and former management at SAIF. And of course, we have the now famous Saturday morning call from Board Chair Cathy Travis, telling Plotkin that she already had the votes to terminate him. All of this occurred before the properly noticed and open meeting required of Oregon law. It certainly would seem the decision was made prior to the May 9, 2014 meeting where the deed “officially” occurred. Anyone who read the meeting minutes in those days could not reach any other conclusion than that his canning was a pre-determined fate.
As I wrote many months ago, if this had happened Florida, someone would probably already be in jail.
As I understand it, things have improved at SAIF. All of the major players involved in the Plotkin coup are gone. From what I have heard, communication is more open, and the CEO ultimately hired to replace Plotkin seems to have a more open and accepting style than those over pre-Plotkin administrations.
Yet one pesky problem remains. John Plotkin was not only potentially fired illegally, they tried to trash his reputation with smarmy sexual and racial allegations as they were forcing him out the door. He needs proper closure if this story is to end well (or at all, for that matter).
The story could end with a simple decision from the bench in 6 days. If not, it will drag on at least another month, but it finally appears to be coming to a close. I have no idea what the Oregon Department of Justice, the agency tasked with defending SAIF, will do once all those billable hours disappear. Let us not forget that employers in the state have been paying for this circus.
I personally hope that the Summary Judgement is issued, and that it is a fair decision in favor of Mr. Plotkin. Virtually all involved know he got a raw deal. If it was a raw deal conducted illegally, than justice should prevail. We all know justice is blind. Let's hope that it is also not deaf and dumb. We also are aware and accept that the wheels of justice turn slowly.
Let us just hope in Oregon that the wheels of justice turn at all.
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.
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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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