I’ve made reference previously comparing the Plotkin/SAIF saga to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. The fundamentals for those persecutions were eerily similar to those in the termination debacle that has unfolded in the Oregon city of that name. It was probably, in retrospect, an unfair comparison. The witches, after all, actually got a trial before their summary execution.

We have a lot to cover today, and it may be a bit rambling, but here goes.

First, a reminder that John Plotkin and his wife Kim will be celebrating a birthday lunch Tuesday the 1st, and have extended an open invitation to anyone who is interested in joining them. They will be at the Bentley Grill, 291 Liberty Street SE in Salem at 12:00. I should mention it is dutch treat.

Second, there are a number of employees who have organized a Capitol Steps protest at 9:00AM on Tuesday the first. Far be it for me to try to pour water on this effort, but I advise those people to be careful. I am told that technically people attending this should be on vacation time, or may be putting their jobs at risk. Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act does afford potential protections for non-union employees in the private sector who engage in what is a called a “concerted action”, but it does not cover government employees. I am unclear as to how SAIF employees would be categorized. You don’t want to have to see how the courts decide that one. That said, I have no idea how many people were planning to attend tomorrow. If media is present and there is a decent number, there is likely much more safety in that situation. It would be far more difficult to retaliate against 200 employees than 10. The Board meeting and petition may be safer alternatives. Just be careful.

Of course, after you see some of the documents now available and how this really unfolded, you may not care enough to be worried. The resemblance is to a third world military coup, where the instigators moved on the palace while the president is out of the country.

The items we publish today consist of hand written notes that document the SAIF Human Resources John Plotkin “investigation” (and if I could use that term more loosely it would fall off the page), as well as emails from various employees regarding that activity. Those emails directly refute comments attributed to them in the HR version, and the authors appear angry to have been pulled into this without their knowledge or involvement. The documents tell a story of an HR led inquiry that appears to have been based largely on third party information and rumor, with no one actually filing a formal complaint about Plotkins behavior. 

We can see that EC is highly fractured by this action, and have learned separate from these documents of potential retaliatory actions by some members towards those involved in the Plotkin termination. On that point, I would advise all of them to take a higher road, focus on healing rather than revenge, and work within channels to right this wrong.  

All of the documents we are publishing today are available here in a single file. They are also available in the attachments box to the right of this article. Be warned there is a lot to review (all redactions in the hand written notes were done by SAIF Legal)

The first pages of these documents are hand written notes made by HR employee Jen Coney. These notes start on April 16th, and on that date concern a discussion with an employee about hearing Plotkin talk about his dog humping black dogs. Most of the references in this entry are indirect observations or claims, including that “some female VP’s feel like John runs a boys club”. 

The important points I would make about this first entry: It is mostly comprised of third party references; someone telling HR what they heard other people recount what Plotkin said. There was little direct witnessing, a theme that is consistent throughout the notes. Also, this particular entry addresses the “Speak English, not actuary” comment Plotkin made to someone we now know is of Vietnamese descent (so what?). While even this was another third party allegation (and did NOT originate with the “person of color”), Coney acknowledges directly in her notes that “his comments could have been in the context that actuaries need to use terms that non-actuaries can understand”. 

Where the hell was that note when the Board publicly skewered Plotkin over the potential offense of that statement?   

Another point in the April 16th entry is that “no one was filing a formal complaint”. That was a very consistent theme throughout these notes.

The notes go on to reflect what looks to be an activist HR department seeking out comment and input on Plotkins behavior. Common themes seem to be that Plotkin ran a “good old boys” inner circle, had no “filter”, and sounds as though he was obsessed with his humping dog. You will see in Coney’s final hand written notes that HR clearly declared this to be a “pattern” (read “problem”). 

The dates on these documents are chilling. Started around April 16th and ending on the 29th, they had been “investigating” for 13 days. No one in HR spoke to Plotkin. No one asked him for clarification. No one, as you will see, spoke to the people to whom certain comments were attributed. And as her final entry, Jen Coney wrote this:

“Ryan and I had several conversations about next steps. We reviewed the policy, which directs that information of this nature is shared with the employees supervisor”.

That entry was dated April 29, 2014. John Plotkin was in Washington, DC on business. The President had left the palace. As phone records support, the coup was underway. 

There are, following Coney’s documentation, several typed pages from Ryan Fleming, VP of Human Resources, as well as hand written pages recounting and justifying HR actions concerning John Plotkin. Some of the handwritten notes are very difficult to interpret. There are references to information provided by Brenda Rocklin, former SAIF CEO,and Colleen Sealock, former head of HR. I encourage you to fully review them. 

The documents that follow these HR notes tell a completely different tale, and reflect that there are people willing to stand up for what is right in their company. Too bad no one listens to them.

Shannon Rickard is the VP of Legal Services for SAIF. She is the liaison for communications between SAIF and the Oregon DOJ. She, without a doubt, should have been the first person called to involve DOJ in the termination of that company’s CEO.

She wasn’t. She was left completely in the dark. In fact, Rickard was in DC with Plotkin attending AASCIF meetings when the HR soldiers scaled the palace walls. My sources tell me Rickard only found out about this entire affair when she received a call from a friend at DOJ asking her about it. They also tell me she was “livid”, and let everyone know how she felt, including the Board of Directors. Shannon Rickard has taken a few shots from angry employees in this blog, and appears to me to be undeserving of that criticism. And the very first email you see in these documents, indicating that the HR report contained falsehoods and misstatements, is from Shannon Rickard to Interim CEO John Gilkey. (Contact info in these emails has been redacted by us) 

Kathy Gehring, VP of Claims, sent an email to Gilkey on May 27, 2014, expressly denying comments that had been attributed to her, and objecting to the fact that no one had attempted to verify these comments with her. 

Erika Meier, Corporate Event Planner for SAIF, wrote a scathing rebuke to Ryan Fleming, VP of Operations and Human Resources, on May 23rd, not only disavowing comments attributed to her by him, but for the first time giving us a bit of clarity over the whole “dog humping” episode. She paints a far more human picture of John Plotkin in that moment, and oh yeah, SHE WAS ACTUALLY THERE. 

Next up on the HR debunking hit parade is an email from CIO Rick Hanson. He disavows a number of things that were attributed to him in Fleming and Coney’s notes. He was apparently the one they credited with the “inner circle” and “boys club” accusation. Hanson indicates he never said that, and in fact says that Plotkin was an open and refreshing change from Brenda Rocklin, who he says had a distinct “inner circle”. He says the only person he has heard “express a sentiment similar” to that accusation was Theresa McHugh, VP of Financial Services. He indicates that Coney may have been confused in her notes, as they had discussed McHugh’s “general dissatisfaction with John”. 

Mr. Hanson continues to shatter HR contentions about dinner with Colleen Sealock and other items attributed to him. One line, however, stands out far above all the others. He definitely win’s the “Bob’s Cluttered Desk Quote of the Week” with this little gem. He asks John Gilkey, “Why are Colleen Sealock and Brenda Rocklin, who are not SAIF employees, considered more reliable sources of information for the SAIF HR department than I am as an officer of the corporation? Even today, when I said to Ryan that I had never had dinner with Colleen, he replied that, ‘Well, that’s what my notes say’.”

Well, if it’s in the notes, than it must be true. That is how we roll (over people) in HR.

There are a couple other emails damaging to SAIF’s actions contained within this release, and the handwritten notes describing EC meetings and other interactions following the termination are an absolute must read. 

They show that John Gilkey, who was initially informed by Ryan Fleming that he had been selected to be Interim CEO, does not believe that Chris Davie and Ryan Fleming did anything wrong.  

They show that the EC appears highly fractured, with some harboring tremendous resentment over how Plotkin was treated. 

They show that Chris Davie initially denied knowing anything about or having any involvement in the Plotkin termination, until called out by his EC peers over his (now published) phone and email records.

They show that Board Chair Cathy Travis was not answering the phone as of 5/23, and her voice mail was full.

Can’t say that I blame her, all things considered.

And most disturbingly,  they show Fleming hid behind the cloak of potential litigation, refusing to share specifics of the termination with the Executive Council “on the advice of DOJ”.

So, in the end, we have the same questions as we did prior, but our understanding of the drama behind the scenes is much more focused. It’s worse than it appears on the surface. Plotkin wasn’t terminated as a result of inane, childish complaints about his salty language. He was terminated as a result of largely non-existent, inane, childish complaints about his salty language.

SAIF has clear evidence that Plotkin was terminated based on rumor, falsehoods and innuendo, yet CEO Gilkey refuses to initiate any investigation into the matter. Why did HR not approach the people named in their investigation? Why did the board not insist on a more thorough process, and order its own investigation? And why is information from former employees more valuable than those within the company? Is no one accountable in that organization for the truth? 

Was the work of HR just sloppy, or was there another objective in the works? 

Mr. Gilkey, you do not need Ryan Fleming’s permission to act here. The initials on your door say that you have the authority to do so. The fact that your door should still, by all known moral and ethical standards, rightfully say “John Plotkin” is not relevant to this decision process. 

As far as I am concerned, DOJ and the Governor do not have clean hands in this operation either. Why did DOJ facilitate this process on unverified data? The Governor signed off on this based on these agencies recommendations, and is obligated to act in order to protect the integrity of both.

As for the employees, I certainly understand the desire to gather on the Capitol steps. They want answers, and no one seems to be paying attention to their concerns. The evidence is showing those concerns are highly justified. 

After all, even the Salem witches got a trial first.


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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