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Ex-SAIF chief to sue over firing

Plotkin led state workers compensation insurer three months.


John Plotkin served notice Tuesday he will sue over his abrupt firing after just three months as president of SAIF Corp., Oregon's largest provider of workers' compensation insurance.

His lawyers, Andrew Altschul and Dana Sullivan, filed papers with Michael Jordan, Oregon's chief operating officer and director of the Department of Administrative Services.

Plotkin, through his lawyers, alleges that out-of-context remarks he made were the basis of the May 9 dismissal by the SAIF board at the behest of three current or former SAIF executives. Two are vice presidents — Chris Davie, who has since retired, and Ryan Fleming — and the third was Brenda Rocklin, Plotkin's immediate predecessor as president.

"Seizing upon second- and third-hand accounts (many of which are untrue) of what are only laughingly characterized as inappropriate comments made by Mr. Plotkin, Davie, Fleming and Rocklin persuaded SAIF's board that Mr. Plotkin's employment be terminated," his notice says.

Oregon started workers' compensation insurance as an alternative to lawsuits back in 1913. Lawmakers established the State Accident Insurance Fund in 1965, and converted it into a quasi-public corporation starting in 1980.

SAIF has 43,000 policyholders and covers an estimated 600,000 workers. It writes about half of all workers' compensation insurance in Oregon. It reported almost $4.8 billion in assets in 2013, and paid a dividend of $129 million.

SAIF, based in Salem, employs more than 800 people. An estimated 100 of them showed up at the board meeting when Plotkin was fired May 9.

The board has said little in public about the matter.

"The CEO of SAIF Corp. is an at-will employee who works at the pleasure of the board of directors," according to the board statement. "We continue to stand by our unanimous decision. However, in light of threatened legal action, the SAIF board has no further comment at this time."

Board members are appointed by the governor, but they largely determine how much is spent and what executives are paid.

Rocklin became SAIF's chief executive in 2004, having moved over from the Oregon Lottery. She succeeded Kathy Keene, who resigned amid an investigation into why SAIF underreported how much it spent on lobbying by former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt and others, and her deletion of email messages.

Voters rejected a ballot measure that year to abolish SAIF. The campaign for it was largely bankrolled by SAIF's chief rival, Liberty Northwest, a subsidiary of Liberty Mutual based in Boston. But the state's largest business and labor federations opposed it, as did then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

Rocklin announced in 2013 she would step down, and Plotkin — then interim chief executive of Pinnacol Assurance, Colorado's workers' compensation fund — succeeded her effective Feb. 3.

Plotkin was paid about $320,000, compared with Rocklin's $294,350. Rocklin in 2009 urged the board not to give her a raise at a time the economy was faltering.

Davie was SAIF vice president for corporate policy and external affairs until he retired June 30. Fleming is vice president for operations and human resources.

Plotkin was dismissed May 9 on grounds that he had made inappropriate or offensive remarks that amounted to harassment.

In his notice, Plotkin referred to a series of incidents he said were deliberately misinterpreted or conveyed incorrectly. Still, he said, he was not offered a chance to explain himself, rebut the allegations or undertake remedial action when the board chairwoman called him at home May 3 and said he should resign or be fired.

Plotkin speculated in his notice that either Rocklin wants to be president again, or she and the others sought to thwart his efforts to create "a new, more open and collaborative culture."

John Gilkey is SAIF's interim president.

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Clarifies that Chris Davie retired June 30 as a vice president of SAIF Corp.