Former Chicago State University employee files whistleblower suit, claims he was fired for trying to report grant misuses

By Annie Cosby | Oct 21, 2014


A former employee of Chicago State University is suing over allegations he was fired for attempting to report alleged misuses of grant money.

Bryant Tillman-Kelly filed a lawsuit Sept. 24 in Cook County Circuit Court against Chicago State University, the Board of Trustees of Chicago State University, and Justin Akujieze, as an individual and in his capacity as the university's dean.

According to the complaint, Tillman-Kelly was hired by CSU in September 2009 as a project director in the School of Graduate and Professional Studies, a position funded through a grant program authorized by a section of the Higher Education Act called Masters Degrees Programs at Predominately Black Institutions (MPBI).

The plaintiff claims he worked under the supervision of Akujieze, who he alleges impeded his work, refused to cooperate with him, and ignored his complaints that Akujieze's staff were using MPBI funds for unallowable costs, including a cell phone for an administrative assistant and travel costs unrelated to the grant program.

In December 2009, Tillman-Kelly asserts he produced a report to be sent to the Department of Education outlining his concerns, but Akujieze instructed him not to send it and then contacted the department to say Tillman-Kelly had resigned even though he had not done so.

After Tillman-Kelly contacted the university's ethics department in January 2010, the suit states that Akujieze began removing his duties related to the grant and humiliating him in front of other workers in retaliation for his complaints.

The plaintiff contends he contacted the ethics department again in March, but nothing was done until April 6, 2010, when his position was terminated even though the grant allegedly runs on a six-year funding cycle.

In his suit, Tillman-Kelly states he reported the alleged grant misuses to the Department of Education after his reports to the CSU president went unanswered. The Department of Education, according to the suit, determined CSU had misused grant funds and ordered it to pay back money used for unallowable purposes.

Tillman-Kelly accuses the defendants of violating the Illinois State Official and Employee Act. He is seeking reinstatement to his job, more than $50,000 in back pay, plus interest, and more than $50,000 in punitive damages.

He is represented by attorneys Seth R. Halpern and Meredith W. Buckley of Malkinson & Halpern in Chicago.

Cook County Circuit Court case number: 2014L009962.

This is a report on a civil lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court. The details in this report come from an original complaint filed by a plaintiff. Please note, a complaint represents an accusation by a private individual, not the government. It is not an indication of guilt and it only represents one side of the story.

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