Special Report: Sick Leave Dispute

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The City of Portsmouth is taking a former police officer to court, suing for thousands of dollars in advanced sick leave the city claims was never repaid.

The former officer, Mike Plessinger, who now lives in York County, says he doesn’t owe the city any money and is raising new questions about where hundreds of hours of donated sick leave went that was supposed to go to him.

“They gave me a 30 percent chance to live,” says former Portsmouth police Officer Mike Plessinger.

In June 2008, he thought it was the beginning of the end.

“I went to the emergency room and they found a softball size tumor on my ascending colon,” Plessinger remembers.

It was cancer. When news started spreading, the Portsmouth police family started rallying around Plessinger. They had a fundraiser. There are pictures where Plessinger is cutting fellow officers’ hair to show solidarity for a brother in blue.

“When this issue came up, [then Interim Police] Chief Corvello and I had a conversation about doing something for the officer,” said former Interim Assistant Portsmouth Police Chief Garrett Shelton.

Shelton says he worked with the Department of Human Resource Management setting up a sick leave donation program specifically for Plessinger.

As part of the ongoing lawsuit, Plessinger’s side has gathered statements from the Portsmouth police family saying how many hours of sick leave they remember giving towards Plessinger so he could use them to support his family. If you are to believe the statements, there was widespread support among the Portsmouth police family. They responded this way by donating sick leave to Mike, who earlier in the year had used most of his leave after becoming a new dad.

At the time, Plessinger was worrying about a lot of things: “Again, I am in an ICU Oncology unit.”

Mike says he was worried about health, family — just living — but he signed something called an advanced sick leave reimbursement agreement.

“The whole point of that was the buffer between the time I run out of sick leave, and the time the donation bank kicks in.”

If there were a gap of time, Plessinger thought the donation bank kicks in. He insists after he signed and initialed the advanced sick leave reimbursement agreement, other elements were filled in afterwards, like the sick leave advance of 666 hours.

“When I signed that, there was nothing else on the paper.”

It should also be noted that it would appear the 666 is written in and possibly corrected with white-out. It also appears the donated sick leave did not go to Plessinger.  When Mike initialed and signed the agreement, he was advanced his own future sick leave — not the donated sick leave as he and Shelton thought.

It would also appear in a January 20, 2009, email from Human Resources to the police department, Plessinger’s “repayment…[to the city we will] deduct four hours… sick leave per month.”

In its lawsuit against Plessinger, the city thinks this is an important point, writing, “No objection was raised at the time as to whether these sick hours were ‘advanced’ or ‘donated.'”

However, that city email was never sent to Plessinger or Shelton, and Plessinger wouldn’t return to work for four months after the email was sent.

Shelton says the city is wrong and is taking unfair advantage of an employee dealing with cancer.

“He has got donations that are clearly coming to him and he is signing an agreement that all he believes is this is how I am going to get this. It is how I am going to get what was donated to me.”

Plessinger insists from June 2008, when he leaves for the cancer treatment, until May 2009, when he returns, he thinks he’s being paid with donated sick leave from his police family and he has been told nothing by the city to make him think otherwise.

The problem with that: After Plessinger returns, the city begins deducting four hours of sick leave hours a month, just like they said they would as repayment. Plessinger says he never picked up on that, rarely looking at his pay stubs except to see the total amount deposited into his checking account. 10 On Your Side pointed that out to Plessinger — that they were deducting from his paycheck — and asked him whether he noticed that.

“I did not notice anything,” Plessinger said. “Four hours of sick leave a month. Maybe I should have, yes, maybe I should have. I did not notice.”

The reimbursement agreement also requires “any unpaid amount will be deducted from my final paycheck… If it does not fully cover… this obligation… I will enter into an installment note agreement… not to exceed six months.”

The city failed to alert Plessinger of this as he was resigning from the police force for a sheriff’s deputy position in York County, and remember — Plessinger claims he didn’t realize he owed it.

“I should have been told during my exit interview… which was not done.”

Once again, when Plessinger leaves Portsmouth in August 2011, he says he has no idea he owes anything, so you can imagine his shock when almost six years later in May 2016 he gets a letter from the city claiming he owes $10,953.96.

“When I read that, I about fell over. I fell over when I read it, and I thought it was a mistake.”

10 On Your Side wanted to know from Portsmouth City Attorney Solomon Ashby why it took so long to notify Plessinger. It is clear the guidelines of the reimbursement agreement were not followed, “Because of Plessinger’s service to the city and because it involves medical issues, the city is not going to comment outside the courtroom.”

Portsmouth City Treasurer Jimmy Williams’ office will prosecute the Plessinger case, and Ashby says Williams’ office is doing that because the treasurer is charged with collecting unpaid bills. WAVY News asked Williams about the case.

“That will be presented in court.”

In July 2016, Williams tried to garnish Plessinger’s York County wages, but Williams’ request was rejected.

But here’s the bigger question: Where is all that donated sick leave from the Portsmouth police family?

Shelton is livid, as someone who says donated 40 hours of sick leave to Plessinger, “What happened to all these hours donated? I have no idea.”

Plessinger says, “Great question, I don’t know where it is at.”

Shelton adds, “I think this is one of the most deplorable actions that I have seen when I was there, and since I’ve left.”

Shelton says Portsmouth has opened a can of worms, says the brotherhood donated their own sick leave to Plessinger, and it disappeared.

“It disappeared to the benefit of the city… I never saw an hour come back to me of anything. I donated, so my question is, if you received my time back in payment, did you repay me? I gave it to Mike Plessinger.”

Both sides are set to battle this out in court July 18. A judge will also have to decide whether the statute of limitations has expired and what happened in the case of the missing donated sick leave.


Documents: 

Motion for Judgement: City of Portsmouth vs. Michael Plessinger

Grounds for Defense: City of Portsmouth vs. Michael Plessinger