Gov. Pat Quinn could be added as a defendant in a lawsuit brought by a whistleblower who claims he was fired in retaliation for calling attention to alleged financial misconduct by University President Wayne Watson.
Glenn Meeks, who was vice president of administration and finance at the school, claims in the suit that he introduced himself to Quinn at a luncheon on March 25, 2013, and urged the governor to reappoint members of the university’s Board of Trustees who intended to replace Watson.
Quinn did not reappoint the board members. And the next day, Watson fired Meeks.
Meeks’ attorney, Dave Heilmann, said Tuesday, hours after the suit was filed against Watson and CSU, that over the course of the next six months he will be obtaining information from Quinn’s office to determine whether the governor should be added to the suit.
“We do find it certainly suspect that on March 25th he was asking the governor to reappoint these people in a public forum, and less than 24 hours later, he was dismissed,” Heilmann said.
A spokeswoman for Quinn said Tuesday night that she had not seen the lawsuit and could not immediately comment.
The suit claims Meeks went to Gary Rozier, chairman of CSU’s Board of Trustees to report an alleged romantic relationship Watson was having with a female CSU employee that could have potentially made the school vulnerable to sexual-harassment litigation.
In addition, Meeks reported that Watson hired the woman for a human resources position in 2009 despite false and misleading information on her resume. According to the lawsuit, Meeks suggested to Rozier that Watson hired, and later promoted the woman to a new position as vice president of enrollment management — a role which she had no experience — because of their personal relationship. Meeks told Rozier that the situation presented violated ethical standards and number of university policies, according to the suit.
Meeks told Rozier that among a number of questionable financial decisions made by Watson was the decision to, despite declining enrollment, increase the staff and expenses at the university’s enrollment office, according to the suit.
Watson also hired a number of unqualified people to key administrative staff positions and gave them salaries higher than their predecessors, Meeks told Rozier, according to the suit.
According to the lawsuit, Rozier made public statements in early 2013 about the need for a change in leadership at CSU.
Shortly after, Watson sent out a note seeking political support at a Board of Trustees meeting at which retired Illinois Senate president Emil Jones expressed support for Watson.
“I don’t want to see a president that is doing a job be discharged for some frivolous reasons which seem to me as stupid and ridiculous,” Jones stated at the March 1 meeting, according to the suit.
Rozier and two other trustees were not reappointed by Quinn, and Watson stayed on as university president, a position he still holds. Meeks was fired.
“The powers that be stepped in and silenced the guy who was the whistleblower,” Heilmann said.
Meeks is seeking back pay, punitive damages and reinstatement.
Earlier this month, a Cook County Circuit Court judge ordered CSU to pay the school’s former senior legal counsel, James Crowley, double the amount of back pay a jury had awarded him, plus interest, in a whistleblower lawsuit. Crowley’s 2010 lawsuit alleged he was fired in retaliation for reporting university improprieties to Illinois’ attorney general.
Asked for comment on the lawsuit, Tom Wogan, the university’s spokesman, said in an email: “The University vigorously denies the baseless allegations made in Mr. Meeks civil suit. Mr. Meeks is clearly a disgruntled former employee and he was given a list of the multiple valid reasons for his dismissal when he was removed from his position. We are very confident the University will be vindicated by the judicial process. We will allow that process to play out and will not allow it to distract from our mission to serve our students.”