UIC Greek prof says IL Court of Claims wrongly sidestepped his lawsuit vs school over his firing

By Dan Churney | Aug 3, 2018

A onetime professor of Greek at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is flunking the Illinois Court of Claims for dismissing his lawsuit against the school, in which he alleged school officials fired him as the result of a plot to discredit him and protect the jobs of other professors, saying the court denied him due process by dismissing his case against the school on the grounds he won a verdict against one of the professors in circuit court.

By Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota (University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A onetime professor of Greek at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is flunking the Illinois Court of Claims for dismissing his lawsuit against the school, in which he alleged school officials fired him as the result of a plot to discredit him and protect the jobs of other professors, saying the court denied him due process by dismissing his case against the school on the grounds he won a verdict against one of the professors in circuit court.

In a late July filing, Pietro Bortone said he wants a Cook County judge to order the Court of Claims to hear his suit against UIC. The Court of Claims handles suits against the state, except for workers’ compensation and federal claims.

In 2010, Bortone was let go after several years as an assistant professor of Modern Greek Studies at UIC. His teaching program was funded by an endowment from donors. Nanno Marinatos and John Vaio taught classes in  ancient Greek, and department chair John T. Ramsey taught Latin, which were part of the curriculum paid for through regular school funding.

The school moved to cut the Latin and ancient Greek courses to save money, saying not enough students took those classes, but the plan did not involve Bortone’s classes, because those classes relied on the endowment.

Bortone alleged the three faculty members conspired to save their jobs at his expense by souring the donors on him and sabotaging his tenure bid, so the donors would divert their money to the ancient Greek and Latin programs. According to Bortone, his three colleagues allegedly undercut his work and devalued his scholarship, resulting in his discharge.

Bortone contested his termination with the university, before lodging a suit in 2011 against UIC with the Court of Claims. Bortone alleged UIC officials breached his contract by relying on undue influence from donors to deny him tenure, instead of basing their decision on proper criteria.

The Court of Claims told Bortone that before his case could proceed against the state, he had to exhaust his remedies against all other parties. As a consequence, Bortone said he sued Marinatos, Vaio and Ramsey for $4 million in 2011 in Cook County Circuit Court. The matter went to jury trial in 2017, with Bortone winning a $5,000 judgment against only Ramsey.

Bortone then resumed his case against UIC in the Court of Claims, but UIC moved for dismissal, saying the case had already been adjudicated. The Court of Claims agreed, tossing the suit without a hearing.

Bortone wants the dismissal overturned, arguing the Court of Claims demanded he first go through other legal channels and now is using that as grounds to kill his suit.

Further, in Bortone’s eyes, the Court of Claims denied him his right to due process by shutting down his suit without a hearing. Bortone noted he filed a motion against UIC’s dismissal motion, but the court did not mention it in its dismissal order. 

“The Court of Claims is the only forum in which Bortone can find remedy for UIC’s breach of contract, but he has been wrongly denied the opportunity to seek that remedy by the Order,” Borone’s attorney said.

In throwing out the case, the Court of Claims ignored the statute governing its procedures, Bortone argues, and “improperly took the Circuit Court suit” as a “substitute for the contract action against the state.”

Bortone added the $5,000 jury award can be subtracted from any award against the state in the Court of Claims, but cannot take the place of his claim against UIC.

UIC has not yet responded to Bortone’s new action.

Bortone is represented by Thomas D. Rosenwein and Stacey Kamin, of Rosenwein Law Group in Chicago.

 

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Circuit Court of Cook County Illinois Court of Claims Rosenwein Law Group University of Illinois at Chicago

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