The Oregon Department of Justice, speaking on behalf of SAIF Corporation, the Oregon workers’ compensation state fund, has extended an offer to recently terminated CEO John Plotkin to hold a “Name Clearing Hearing”. The ludicrous offer is apparently intended to give him an open forum to tell his side of the story, and reads as though proffered in exchange for a delay in the release (to the press) of documents related to his termination.
Plotkin has tentatively accepted the offer, but has done so with certain conditions. More on that in a moment.
I’ve never heard of a “Name Clearing Hearing”, and frankly the offer only makes me more suspicious of this entire ordeal. I’ve had to terminate many people over my career, and while it is a task I have never taken pleasure in, they were all well documented and the reasons were clear. I never felt compelled to let someone “clear their name”, since the terminations were documented, explainable and justified.
So why this move to offer a public hearing to allow a man to defend himself against specific claims that have never been publicly revealed? Whose name are we really trying to clear here?
The offer does demonstrate one important point. A termination for unspecified accusations leaves an indelible stain on a persons reputation. It is a damaging mark that can cause real economic harm to the person who receives it. John Plotkin was fired for “inappropriate comments to employees” that were largely never disclosed – to him or to a curious public. The only alleged offensive comment that has been made public, Plotkin telling an employee to “Speak English, not Actuary”, is so pathetic an excuse for termination that it gives the entire episode an absurd circus atmosphere. The offer leads me to believe that SAIF recognizes this, and it is an attempt to minimize potential damage from the affair. It is time, apparently, for this circus to send in the clowns.
The offer for Mr. Plotkin to publicly make his case was presented in a letter dated May 27th from Tessa Sugahara, Attorney for the Oregon Department of Justice. Ms. Sugahara indicated that SAIF was preparing to release documents in response to open record requests from state media outlets. The letter stated they were preparing to release those documents on May 30, 2014, unless Plotkin accepted their offer for the special hearing. If he accepted, the letter states, “SAIF intends to disclose the records after the conclusion of your presentation”.
Plotkin, as earlier noted, sent an acceptance through his attorney on May 28th. He included several conditions for this hearing, all of which are perfectly reasonable in my view. He wishes to see all of the documents slated to be released prior to this hearing. He is asking for a venue in or near Salem large enough to accommodate all who wish to attend. And most telling, he is asking for guarantees of protection for SAIF employees who wish to attend and/or speak on his behalf. He is also asking that SAIF employees NOT be required to use vacation or flex time to attend this hearing, as they were for the meeting where he was terminated. In addition he would like to have access to any potential communications instructing employees what they may or may not be able to say regarding his situation.
These last points are critical, because if any image has emerged since this story broke, it is that there are many SAIF employees unhappy with Plotkin’s termination, and generally scared of potential retaliation for supporting him. Many of them have latched onto the stories on our site and continue to post comments supportive of their former boss. I do not have first hand knowledge of working conditions or the employment atmosphere at SAIF, but these people do not paint a healthy picture, and will likely not trust any documents their employer ultimately releases.
That ain’t a healthy way to run a business, people.
To that end, I address those employees directly here. I do not know if the state will accept John Plotkin’s terms, or if this hearing will actually see the light of day. I do know that many of you have expressed concerns about how this was handled, as well as genuine fear for publicly speaking your mind. If this hearing occurs and you feel John Plotkin was wronged, this is your opportunity to make a difference.
There is safety in numbers. You need to attend. You need to stand up and have your voice heard. Perhaps you just need to collectively stand and say, “Enough”.
English philosopher Edmund Burke famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” If you believe that a true injustice was committed here, you owe it to yourselves to stand for what you believe to be right. Being truthful to yourself and vocal with your objections just may fix the issue; but hiding in silence and fear most assuredly will not.
Even though I personally believe the offer for a “Name Clearing Hearing” is a ridiculous notion, it is an opening through which good men and women should pass, and with a strong, clear and common voice deny potential evil the triumph it so craves.
If SAIF and their DOJ attorneys give that chance, I wish you luck. We will all be watching.
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.