CHICAGO, Ill.—A Cook County Circuit Court judge raised the total payment a former Chicago State University employee will receive after winning his whistleblower lawsuit against the state school last month to $3 million.
Plaintiff James Crowley served as the university’s former senior legal counsel when he was fired in Feb. 2010 in retaliation, he alleged, for refusing to withhold documents about school president Wayne Watson’s former employment that a faculty member had asked him for under the state public records law. Mr. Crowley also alleged he was fired for reporting questionable contracts and other misconduct in the university’s upper ranks.
A 14-member jury sided with Mr. Crowley in February, awarding him $2 million in punitive damages and $480,000 in back pay. On Tuesday, Judge James McCarthy chose to double Mr. Crowley’s back pay and ordered the university to pay interest of $60,000 on the back pay, bringing the original awarded to more than $3 million.
Additionally, the judge ordered Mr. Crowley’s reinstatement and set a hearing for May on whether the university will pay Mr. Crowley’s legal fees and his terms of reemployment. Mr. Crowley had been employed by Chicago State University for 10 years before his termination.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Mr. Crowley’s case is believed to be the first verdict from a whistleblower claim under Illinois’ 2003 State Officials and Employees Ethics Act. The Act sets standards for state employee behavior and includes whistleblower provisions designed to protect employees who report fraud and other wrongful activities.
Jury foreman Antoine Bass told the Chicago Tribune that he hoped the jury’s decision sent a message to all state employees. “It was revenge. It was vindictive, trying to get back at Crowley … Behavior like this cannot exist. You have to make sure people will set a standard that this will not be tolerated.”