Cash-strapped Chicago State University has agreed to a $1.3 million settlement in a whistleblower lawsuit brought by a former administrator who said he was fired for reporting financial misconduct by then-President Wayne Watson.
Settlement of the lawsuit by CSU’s former chief financial officer, Glenn Meeks, came in the 11th hour, as the case was scheduled to go to trial Monday. Aside from the school’s deductible, the payout will come from CSU’s insurance carrier.
Meeks’ March 2014 lawsuit alleged he was fired for blowing the whistle on out-of-control administrative salaries, staffing and expenses, among other things, as well as on Watson’s intimate relationship with a university employee who was hired and promoted under false credentials.
“We believed that the conduct of the university in firing Mr. Meeks was reprehensible, since he was trying to help identify financial problems at Chicago State and get the university back on track,” said Meeks’ lawyer, David Heilmann.
“Because he disagreed with those who were in charge, he was retaliated against. The settlement amount is a clear indication that there was a problem with what they had done,” he added.
Meeks will receive some $850,000 in back pay, and some $450,000 in lawyer’s fees — two-thirds of which has already been received since both sides inked their Dec. 9 agreement.
As part of the settlement, CSU’s Board of Trustees was dismissed from the case and the university admits no liability. In exchange for immediate payment from the university’s insurance carrier, Meeks was precluded from personally discussing the case, and required to turn over names of CSU employees who secretly provided him documents.
“In the University’s efforts to continue to focus on the importance of educating their students, CSU reached a settlement agreement with former employee Glenn Meeks to fully resolve his lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County,” the university said in a statement.
“By agreeing to settle the case, Chicago State University, its agents and employees do not admit to any liability or any violation of any federal, state or local law. Rather, Chicago State University made the decision to resolve the case to minimize the continued anticipated costs and distractions associated with continuing to litigate,” the statement said.
The suit is the second whistleblower lawsuit slamming the struggling South Side school in the past 2 1/2 years. In a lawsuit filed in 2010 and settled in 2014, CSU’s former senior legal counsel, James Crowley, also alleged he was fired in retaliation for reporting improprieties by the school.
A jury awarded Crowley $2.5 million; the case was believed to be the first claim under Illinois’ decade-old State Officials and Employees Ethics Act, designed to weed out corruption by public officials and protect state employee whistleblowers. Then a Cook County Circuit Court judge doubled the back pay awarded to Crowley, and added interest, bringing the total potential payout to over $3 million.
CSU lost its appeal in that case last year, and the trial judge is expected to rule soon on the final amount, with interest, owed Crowley. However, in that case, CSU’s insurance carrier is disputing responsibility for the payout, citing exclusions in the university’s policy of claims involving violations of law by the university and its employees.