They say that no man is an island, but I’ll bet at times Bob Gilliland feels as though he has been set adrift as a lonely castaway. Gilliland is Chairman of the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission, and the Tulsa World reported yesterday that the Governor of the Sooner State, Mary Fallin, appears none too pleased with him.

At least that is what we can assume when she, through Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger, demanded that he resign his position. 

While the primary reason for the kerfuffle is not officially known, it is alleged that the Governor has signaled displeasure with one of the Commission’s decisions related to a recent workers’ comp case. 

Gee, I wonder which case that could be? 

According to the paper, Gilliland, in a letter to Doerflinger, indicated that he asked Gilliland to resign on Aug. 29 because of “dissatisfaction with a decision the Commission made in a case.” Gilliland says he “asked if there were any other reasons and you stated you know of no other reasons for the request to resign.” 

Man, they really like to opt out of things in Oklahoma. They were the first state to adopt a system allowing employers to “Opt Out” of workers’ comp and set up alternative “ERISA style” plans. Now that the scheme has been torpedoed as unconstitutional by the OK State Supremes, the guv wants to opt out of the Chairman she appointed just a couple years ago. Of course, the fact that the previously mentioned torpedoing of the Opt Out dream was the result of a decision by Gilliland’s Commission is likely pure coincidence.


If the allegations are true, it could represent a potentially illegal action by a Governor injecting politics into what has legislatively been designated a judicial body. The Commission, after all, is granted judiciary powers for issues related to workers’ compensation claims. The Supreme Court has also confirmed the Commissions ability to declare portions of the Oklahoma comp act unconstitutional if it is found to be applied improperly.

Perhaps Mary “Help me I’ve” Fallin will demand the Supreme Court Justices resign as well. Whether legal or not, the ethical ramifications of her actions are significant. 

I’ve met Bob Gilliland on a couple of occasions. I have found him to be a dedicated, sincere and thoughtful person. Even the Governor indicated the same, when she said, “Robert Gilliland brings a wealth of legal experience that will serve him well as he works to help craft a fair and efficient way to deal with injured workers on the job. I’m delighted he has agreed to serve on this important commission.” Of course, that is what she said when she appointed him. Probably would edit that down a bit, now. It seems that “fair and efficient” was not all it was cracked up to be.

Gilliland and his fellow commissioners were right with the Vasquez (Opt Out) decision, and the Supreme Court backed them up. Likely someone with the Governors ear (or wallet) has been displeased by the outcome, and true to form when the poop hits the fan, they’ve tried to shoot the messenger. But it appears they may have instead shot themselves in the foot. Fortunately, it is a sensation to which Oklahoma politicians are quite accustomed.

For his part, Gilliland wrote in his letter, that he “decided it is in the best interest of the injured workers, employers, insurance carriers, employees of the Commission and the people of the State of Oklahoma that I remain at the Commission.” His current term ends in 2017. It appears we should not hold our breath for a reappointment. 

So yet another controversy embraces Oklahoma workers’ comp. Lately those guys have been the gang that can’t shoot straight, and the industry watches with a kind of shocked bemusement. I mean, Illinois state government looks downright functional by comparison. 

So, to Chairman Robert we say fight on. We’re watching, and we have your back. You are not stuck alone on Gilliland’s Island; you’re just stranded with a cast of goofy characters.


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