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The Illinois Supreme Court has ended a whistleblower suit brought by a man who claimed the Chicago City Colleges wrongly fired him for allegedly trying to draw awareness to the colleges' hiring of unqualified instructors.
The case revolves around Kenrick Roberts, a former Malcolm X College employee who was responsible for making sure the school hired qualified teachers. He allegedly expressed concerns about the schools’ phlebotomy instructor possibly lacking credentials to teach that subject. The professor in question later left the school, and another unqualified professor allegedly was brought in as a replacement. Roberts said the school fired him after he complained about the unqualified professors. He sued the college in September 2015.
In April 2018, a three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court reversed a lower court’s decision to dismiss Roberts’ retaliatory discharge suit in which he also claimed wrongful termination and violations of the Whistleblower Act. The appellate panel sided with him on the retaliatory discharge claim, but the justices upheld the lower court’s decision to dismiss the Whistleblower Act claim.
Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier | Illinoiscourts.gov
Both parties appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, which issued its opinion May 23. Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier wrote the opinion. Justices Robert Thomas, Thomas Kilbride, Rita Garman, Anne Burka and Mary Jane Theis concurred. Justice P. Scott Neville did not participate in the decision.
As he did before the appellate panel, Roberts insisted he was trying to make sure only qualified instructors received appointments to ensure the college remained eligible to receive federal loan and grant funding, which he said was established in Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965. In the appellate decision reversing the lower court’s dismissal of that part of the complaint, Justice Sheldon Harris wrote “If (the) defendant accepts loan money but uses it to hire incompetent and unqualified individuals… (the) defendant has essentially defrauded both the student and the taxpayer.”
In Illinois Supreme Court briefings, the defendants countered by arguing nothing Roberts introduced as evidence demonstrate a right to public aid for postsecondary education.
Roberts also said the appointed instructors weren’t qualified according to the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences. Karmeier, however, wrote that in 2015, the NAACLS wasn’t an accepted accrediting agency for Title IV eligibility.
The justices also found Roberts didn’t adequately allege the college made a misrepresentation in that it never “promised a certain level of quality of education or relayed any type of communication about the qualifications, training or experience of the instructors,” Karmeier wrote.
Although Roberts said the instructors weren’t qualified, he didn’t show where the college promised they were.
“There is no allegation, much less supporting authority, that students must be taught by certified phlebotomists/EKG technicians in order to become a certified phlebotomist or EKG technician,” Karmeier wrote, saying nothing in Roberts’ second amended complaint supports the allegation students in Health Professions 101 wouldn’t meet phlebotomy certification guidelines.
The justices upheld the appellate court’s dismissal of Roberts’ Whistleblower Act violations, in which he said he was fired for refusing to take part in the alleged fraud of appointing unqualified instructors. Since Roberts failed to show what law the college broke or that It defrauded students by appointing the people in question, he lacks the ability to invoke Whistleblower protection.
Karmeier wrote the Cook County Circuit Court judge was right to dismiss the two counts of Roberts’ second amended complaint for failing to advance a worthy Whistleblower Act argument, but that the appellate court erred in reversing dismissal of the retaliatory discharge claim.