The Crusader Newspaper Group

Chicago State to pay $4.3 million settlement

Chicago Crusader staff report

One month after settling a whistleblower lawsuit for $1.3 million, Chicago State University on Tuesday, January 31 was ordered to pay $4.3 million to another employee who was fired after he accused the former school’s president of misconduct. That amount includes $3 million from a verdict the jury awarded to James Crowley in 2014.

CSU officials delayed paying the $3 million judgement for three years as they appealed the decision, but on Tuesday, January 31, they learned the delay made things much worse for the predominately Black school on the far South Side.

On that day, CSU Cook County Judge James McCarthy ordered the school to pay more than $1 million on top of $3 million to make up for the three years of non-payment that prolonged Crowley’s hardships.

McCarthy ordered the university to pay the original jury award and legal fees, plus 6 percent interest that accrued for three years since the verdict was given in 2014.

CSU must also pay Crowley $250,000 in “front pay” after the judge said it was unreasonable for Crowley to return to his job and make this amount from the three years of loss work time.

The $4.3 million does not include CSU’s legal fees over the three-year period. And the settlement cost could get even higher for CSU as the school pays interest on $20,000 monthly installments until the judgement is paid.

During court proceedings that led to the initial $3 million, a panel of three judges found that CSU launched “a campaign designed to both economically harm… and inflict psychological distress upon” Crowley and called school officials’ behavior “thoroughly reprehensible.” The panel suggested then president Wayne Watson and his aides acted with “malice and deceit.”

Watson stepped down as president at CSU in 2015.

CSU appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. With no other legal options left, CSU has no choice but to pay the high settlement amount.

The school spokesperson, Sabrina Land released a statement in regards to the settlement.

“The University continues to express its disappointment with the 2014 verdict. Our highest priority is to focus on productive and important matters such as our students, staff and university options.

The award is a vindication for Crowley, who in news reports said he worked temporary jobs since filing a whistleblower lawsuit under Illinois new state ethics act. Crowley claims that he was fired as the school’s attorney after he refused to withhold documents about Watson’s employment. Those documents were requested by a faculty member under the open records law. In addition, Crowley claimed that the school retaliated after he reported questionable university contracts to the attorney general’s office. He was escorted off the campus by university police when he was fired in 2007.

There are concerns that CSU’s insurance does not cover the $4.3 million judgement. News reports say the Illinois National Insurance Co. does not cover the school’s claims caused by “fraudulent or dishonest act or willful violation of any statute, rule or law.”

With the state’s budget crisis, CSU has struggled to keep its doors open and pay its faculty. The $4.3 million settlement is an amount the school may not be able to pay out of its own pocket.

It’s the latest financial blow to hit CSU. Last September, the school paid $600,000 to William Calhoun who was forced out under mysterious circumstances. Last month, the school paid a $1.3 million settlement to former CFO Glenn Meeks, who filed a lawsuit in 2014 alleging he was fired for reporting concerns about Watson’s personal relationship with another employee who submitted a false resume.

The problems come at a time when CSU is trying to boost its enrollment and academic achievement among students. In January, Governor Bruce Rauner and school officials created a new advisory council of high-powered businessmen and civic leaders who aim to boost student success at the school. Rauner is pushing for former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas to become chairman of CSU’s board of trustees.

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