After years of fending off a whistleblower lawsuit, Chicago State University is set to pay $4.3 million to a former administrator who successfully sued the school in 2010, alleging he was wrongfully fired for exposing questionable contracts.
James Crowley’s whistleblower-retaliation lawsuit was the first to be tried under Illinois’ new state ethics act. His complaint alleged that Chicago State University fired him after he refused to withhold documents about former university president Wayne Watson’s employment that a faculty member had sought under the Illinois Open Records Law and for reporting dubious contracts to the state attorney general’s office.
Jurors awarded Mr. Crowley back pay, $2 million in punitive damages, and attorney fees in 2014. But instead of paying, the University repeatedly challenged the verdict even after the lower courts found that university officials had indeed waged a campaign against Mr. Crowley with the intent to cause him economic and psychological harm.
On Jan. 31, 2017, Cook County Circuit Court Judge James McCarthy harshly rebuked Chicago State officials and added an additional $1 million to Mr. Crowley’s whistleblower award, including 6 percent interest on the original $3 million award, $250,000 in front pay, and additional legal fees. Those additional penalties brought Mr. Crowley’s award to $4.3 million, which the Chicago Sun-Times reports will be paid, citing the plaintiff’s lawyers.
The cash-strapped university is now suing its insurer for its refusal to pay Mr. Crowley’s whistleblower award. National Insurance Co. rejected the school’s claim for the judgment amount, saying the policy does not cover claims stemming from “fraudulent or dishonest act or a willful violation of any statute, rule or law.”
“At all stages of this case, the jury, trial judge and appellate court determined that Chicago State leaders had ‘committed a number of willful and dishonest acts in an attempt to advantage themselves …’” and therefore “no (insurance) coverage is available,” National Insurance wrote in a letter to university officials, according to the Chicago Tribune.