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Illinois

Former NIU Controller Suing University President And Trustees

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Susan Stephens
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NIU's Altgeld Hall

Northern Illinois University’s former Controller is suing the university to get his job back.

The federal lawsuit, filed Oct. 2 in Northern District of Illinois Court names NIU President Doug Baker, the Board of Trustees, and then-CFO Nancy Suttenfield as defendants.

Plaintiff Keith Jackson, of Hinckley, claims he has been barred from campus by Baker and Suttenfield and placed on involuntary, “administrative” leave pending his termination early next year.

In 2012, Jackson was charged during the so-called “Coffee Fund” scandal.

The Coffee Fund consisted of proceeds from scrap metal which should have been turned over to the State but instead were used to pay for office parties.

The DeKalb County State’s Attorney later dismissed the charges against Jackson in that case.

In the filing, Jackson says Baker asked him to sign off on a contract for Suttenfield to serve as the interim Chief Financial Officer. Jackson reportedly refused to do so “on the basis that the contract required the approval of the Board of Trustees, and because processing the payments would have violated the Illinois procurement laws that required competitive bidding.”

According to the filing, as a result, Baker arranged for Suttenfield to be paid through the Northern Illinois University Foundation.

The lawsuit claims Suttenfield "immediately exhibited hostility toward Mr. Jackson," alluding to his refusal to sign off on her contract.

On May 13, 2014, Suttenfield allegedly told Jackson that if he did not sign a “Resolution Agreement” within three days the administration would “find” cause to terminate his employment. The Agreement provided for two week’s pay, no future employment, and a “neutral” reference in exchange for Jackson’s immediate resignation.

He did not sign it, and filed a formal grievance with the university.

According to the lawsuit filing, Jackson also claims the defendants cut his access to e-mail and other forms of communication, and repeatedly made false, “unfounded, and highly damaging statements about purported unprofessional conduct” that he says has made it virtually impossible for him to find employment elsewhere.

The filing also says, “President Baker and the current University administration have engaged in a pattern and practice of placing University employees on immediate involuntary administrative  leave, cutting off their access to e-mail, barring them from campus, and wrongly threatening to fabricate bogus charges in order to pressure them to sign separation agreements whereby they waive their rights and 'voluntarily'resign, thus willfully and maliciously flouting the University’s own procedures regarding notice and other administrative requirements.”

The lawsuit lists several people whom it claims were pressured into resigning.

Jackson is asking to be reinstated as Controller, along with punitive damages. His attorney, Alejandro Caffarelli, says they are withholding comment at this time and will let the complaint speak for itself.

According to NIU spokesman Joe King, the university is aware of the lawsuit, and the Office of General Counsel is reviewing the complaint, and adds, “The university has no additional comment on matters of litigation.”

Disclosure: Northern Public Radio is owned by, and licensed to, Northern Illinois University