In what is apparently the largest settlement ever for the Oregon Department of Justice and SAIF Corporation, the SAIF Board of Directors today decided in a 4-0 vote to settle the wrongful termination lawsuit of John Plotkin. The settlement amount of $1.7 million will cover Plotkin’s lost wages and attorney’s fees. The decision was made after a court ruling last week, voiding his termination and restoring him as CEO of the beleaguered workers’ compensation insurance carrier.
Finally, my friends, we come to the end of this very long saga.
The settlement will call for the cessation of all legal action against SAIF, and set Plotkin’s separation date as May 9, 2014, which was the date he was illegally terminated. Additionally, he has to agree to never apply for employment at SAIF Corporation in the future. The board made the motion and passed it after a closed Executive Session lasting over two hours. Board Chair Jenny Ulum told the assembled observers that it was important to put the incident behind them, as it would be best for SAIF to do so. Another board member noted that the agreement “doesn’t place blame” on any of the related parties.
I think that has already been adequately handled, thank you.
While this is good news in many, many ways, there is a tinge of sadness associated with the closing of this chapter. John Plotkin genuinely enjoyed his time as SAIF’s CEO, and I get the feeling that, given the option, he would have preferred to continue that role beyond this point. Having come to know so many SAIF employees over the last three years, I completely understand why it was such a unique opportunity for him. It is a shame for both him and the employees that struggled valiantly for his return, that he will not have the pleasure of doing so.
John Plotkin is the one whose career was unfairly truncated, but the real story here has been, and continues to be, the resolve of hundreds of employees who stood up to right a wrong; a group willing to confront malfeasance and demand better of the organization for which they toiled daily. The story of John Plotkin will become the subject of business ethics courses, and the lesson will have to include those men and women who risked their own security to speak on his behalf. It is said that almost 200 SAIF employees showed up that fateful day 3 years ago when their popular boss was under assault. That represents almost 25% of the entire staff.
When is the last time you heard of so many employees combatting to save their boss? It was a new phenomenon to me, and certainly was to the board at that time.
They never saw it coming.
In the end analysis, we had a board of directors that failed at its most basic responsibilities. They failed to conduct due diligence when allegations were made. They failed to follow proper procedure. They failed to follow the law. And they failed their employees, customers and citizens of the state they served.
They cost employers in the state millions of dollars. After all, that $1.7 million only represents Plotkin’s salary and legal costs. It does not include what was paid to defend the indefensible.
As for John Plotkin, he will remain in Arizona, where he once again practices law. One bright light that now shines from the settlement, he is now free to speak to other state agencies and corporations about, among other things, the import of public meeting and public records laws, and how to evaluate allegations of improper CEO behavior.
After all, there is a lesson in John Plotkin’s story. Now that he is unshackled from the burdens of an unfair employment action, others would be wise to learn the lesson he has lived.
Congratulations, Mr. Plotkin. This decision could not have happened to a more deserving fellow.