Chicago State pays ex-finance officer $1.3M to end whistleblower lawsuit

By Jonathan Bilyk | Jan 6, 2017

A former financial officer at Chicago State University has secured a $1.3 million settlement from the university, ending his litigation against the school over his claims he had been fired in retaliation for exposing misdeeds by the university’s administration, including former university president Wayne Watson.

On Dec. 29, 2016, a Cook County judge signed off on the settlement deal between plaintiff Glenn Meeks and CSU, dismissing the lawsuit by agreement.

Meeks’ attorney, David Heilmann, of the firm of Clausen Miller, of Chicago, said one-third of the settlement went to pay Meeks’ attorney fees. The remainder of the settlement sum, which was purportedly paid under a CSU insurance policy, was paid to Meeks, now 65, to cover “back pay and non-wage damages,” Heilmann said.

The sum effectively restores Meeks financially to the position in which he would have been had he not been fired in 2013, Heilmann said.

In a prepared statement, CSU confirmed it had reached a settlement with Meeks.

However, the university did not disclose the settlement terms. And CSU said the settlement should not serve as an admission “to any liability or any violation of any federal, state or local law.”

The university said the settlement was offered “to resolve the case to minimize the continued anticipated costs and distractions associated with continuing to litigate this case.”

“CSU is saddened that the character of some of its employees (current and former) and trustees came under what they believe was an unwarranted attack,” the statement said. “They were required to defend their actions and spend a great deal of time responding to the demands of the case rather than being able to fully focus on their work.”

The university confirmed the settlement was paid under an insurance policy after CSU met its deductible. The release did not specify how much that deductible was, but said the “funds did not come from CSU budget.”

The lawyer, however, said the size of the settlement demonstrated the university has acknowledged Meeks’ lawsuit was “more than just a nuisance matter” and he indicated the settlement has left his client feeling vindicated.

“When they pay a seven-figure settlement, I’d say that’s vindication,” said Heilmann.

Meeks sued the university in 2014, about a year after he was fired from his post as vice president of administration and finance at CSU from November 2009 to March 2013.

In his lawsuit, Meeks alleged he had been fired after discovering and drawing attention to allegedly deceitful actions by Watson.

He specifically alleged Watson had placed friends and a girlfriend on the university’s payroll and used his social network to financially threaten the university if school leadership terminated him.

Meeks had requested the court reinstate him to his prior position, but that provision was not included in the settlement agreement.  

Meeks’ lawsuit is just one brought against CSU arising out Watson’s tenure as university president.

In 2014, a judge ordered the university to pay former senior legal counsel James Crowley $3.3 million. Crowley had sued CSU after he, too, was fired in 2010 and then professionally hounded for allegedly exposing alleged misdeeds by Watson. A state appeals court upheld that judgment, calling Watson’s actions toward Crowley “nothing short of reprehensible.”

The university’s insurer, however, has asked the court to absolve it of any responsibility to pay that judgment.

CSU was represented in the Meeks case by the firm of Fisher & Phillips, of Chicago.

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Chicago State University Clausen Miller PC Fisher & Phillips LLP

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