NIU officials seek dismissal of fired police chief's racial discrimination, wrongful termination lawsuit

By Jonathan Bilyk | Jun 10, 2014


Northern Illinois University's Board of Trustees has asked a federal judge to dismiss the racial discrimination and wrongful termination suit brought by former campus Police Chief Donald Grady.

Lawyers for the university's BOT, as well as the other school officials named in Grady's federal complaint, claim the fired chief relied on faulty comparisons to bring his claims and failed to demonstrate they either defamed him or did not give him the chance to defend himself against accusations his former department botched a rape investigation.

They made this argument May 28 in a motion seeking the dismissal of the suit Grady filed in February in Chicago's federal court.

U.S. District Court Judge Harry D. Leinenweber earlier this month set a briefing schedule on the motion to dismiss, giving Grady until June 30 to respond and the defendants until July 21 to reply. The latest docket entry in the case notes the judge intends to rule on the motion at a Sept. 4 hearing.

In his lawsuit, Grady, who was police chief at the university in DeKalb for more than a decade and is black, alleged NIU officials denied him his due process rights and racially discriminated against him when they fired him in February 2013.

Grady's termination came as the university continued to deal with the fallout from a pair of scandals.

In 2011 and 2012, the university and Grady came under scrutiny over the way the campus police department handled investigating rape accusations against an NIU police officer, and unrelated allegations against other NIU employees who were accused of selling the school's scrap metal and then depositing the money into a separate bank account – called the “Coffee Fund” – for their personal use.

In the rape investigation, statements from two other female NIU students who claimed the sexual contact between the police officer and his accuser was entirely consensual were discovered to have been improperly placed into the officer’s personnel file, rather than into the official case file.

Grady has maintained that had been done by a lieutenant, contrary to his direction and without his knowledge.

The university-affiliated defendants in Grady's suit, however, repeatedly point out in their motion that the DeKalb County judge who dismissed the charges against the NIU officer accused of rape had called the mishandling of the students' statements “one of the most egregious examples of a Brady violation that she had seen in her time on the bench.”

They also stress that NIU’s actions against Grady came after the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office had issued a press release calling for an investigation into the matter.

They further note that the university moved through a weeks-long process of investigating the matter and allowing Grady the opportunity to meet with NIU administrators and submit several letters to administrators before ultimately firing him.

He was also allowed to go through the official grievance procedures, the defendants assert in their motion to dismiss, which states that these steps  “more than satisfy” due process requirements.

Grady also argued in his February suit that he was treated more harshly than the white employees accused in the "Coffee Fund" investigation.

In response to that claim, the NIU defendants argue that the law does not require them to keep Grady employed simply because the university allowed the white workers from the "Coffee Fund" investigation to keep their jobs.

The law, they contend, requires the standard of comparison to be between employees who were “similarly situated.”

Grady "has not shown that any of the individuals referenced in the complaint had engaged in similar activities that resulted in dismissal of criminal charges and a call for a public investigation by the local prosecutor,” the defendants assert in their motion.

The university defendants also claim they cannot be held responsible for any damage done to Grady’s reputation or ability to find a job elsewhere in law enforcement, as Grady maintains it should, because the damage had already been done by the judge and the prosecutor before NIU took any action on the matter.

The recently-filed motion also lodges various immunity claims for some of the defendants and specifically seeks the dismissal of NIU General Counsel Jerry D. Blakemore and NIU Vice President for Administration and Human Resources Steven Cunningham as defendants from the suit, saying those two men had only a tangential connection to the actions at the crux of Grady's suit.

Besides Blakemore, Cunningham and the university's BOT,  the motion to dismiss was filed on behalf of former NIU President John G. Peters and NIU Vice President for Public Safety and Community Relations F. William Nicklas.

Grady's suit also names other university officials who served on a committee that reviewed and denied his grievance claims following his firing as defendants.

Court records show the defendants are being represented by Tom H. Luetkemeyer, Steven M. Puiszis and Jennifer M. Ballard of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Chicago. Grady is being represented by Michael R. Fox and Randall B. Gold of Fox & Fox S.C. in Chicago.

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