Employees are put into an uncomfortable position when they see a supervisor doing something they should not. The employee understands that the right thing to do is report the wrongdoing. However, they also know that they may be risking retaliation, including being fired from their job. Whistleblower laws are intended to protect workers who report illegal activities from retaliation. A former employee of Chicago State University has settled a lawsuit over allegations that he was fired for reporting misconduct by the university's former president.
Glenn Meeks was the former chief financial officer for Chicago State University. Meeks raised concerns about the then-president of the university, Wayne Watson. Specifically, Meeks told the then-board of trustees' chairman Gary Rozier that Watson was having a relationship with another employee who was hired and received a promotion despite using a false resume.
Meeks also was concerned about the salaries paid to certain administrators, an increase in staff and enrollment management office expenses, as well as additional legal expenses. Meeks said Watson was in violation of the ethics act and university policies. The board was set to determine if Watson violated school policy when Gov. Pat Quinn replaced the board. Watson was given a contract extension and Meeks was fired.
At the time the lawsuit was filed, a spokesman for the university called Meeks a disgruntled former employee. Thomas Wogan wrote in a statement that Meeks 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.”
However, the university recently announced it has reached an agreement with Meeks over the lawsuit. The case was set to go to trial on January 9th. Instead of facing another multimillion dollar jury award, the university agreed to settle the lawsuit for $1.3 million. Under the agreement, Meeks will receive $847,000 in back pay and compensation, and the remainder will go to attorney fees.
The university did not admit to any wrongdoing in settling the case, and did so to minimize costs. However, Meeks' attorney maintains they believe he was improperly terminated, and they came to a mutually agreeable settlement number so each party could go their separate ways.
This marks the second costly lawsuit for the university related to whistleblower violations regarding the alleged misconduct of Watson. In 2014, a whistleblower case involving former university attorney James Crowley went to trial, with the jury awarding Crowley more than $3 million.
Under the Illinois Whistleblower Act, workers may be protected from retaliation when they report information that an employee has reasonable cause to believes may be a violation of a state or federal law or regulation. An employer is also prohibited from retaliating against an employee who participates in an investigation with law enforcement, government agencies, or other proceedings.
If you have been retaliated against for speaking out against wrongdoing in your workplace, you may be protected by Illinois state whistleblower laws. You should speak with an experienced attorney who understands that you cannot be retaliated against for doing the right thing. At Benassi & Benassi, we are committed to getting our clients the justice they deserve and equal treatment under the law.