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WNIJ's summary of news items around our state.

Hearing In NIU Controller Case Moved To August


The status hearing scheduled this week involving NIU Controller Keith Jackson and university officials has been reset to Aug. 30.

In 2015, Jackson filed suit for wrongful termination against NIU, the university’s Board of Trustees, President Doug Baker, and former interim CFO Nancy Suttenfield.

The decision to move the status hearing in Rockford follows a motion by the defendants to dismiss the case. Keith Jackson must respond to that motion by May 19. NIU and Baker then must reply by early June. 

According to a recent filing, the defendants cite a decision on March 9, 2016, saying the court dismissed all claims in Jackson’s original complaint and he was given leave to file an amended complaint. In that filing, they say Jackson made similar allegations as in the original complaint: deprivation of Procedural Due Process and Substantive Due, conspiracy to violate his constitutional right, violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act, tortuous interference with employment, and tortuous interference with prospective economic advantage.

The university officials state that, in order to state a claim for violation of substantive or procedural due process rights, the Plaintiff must allege that he was deprived of a property or liberty interest. The filing cites Citizens Health Corp. v. Sebelius to support their claim that Jackson fails to plead either a property or liberty interest.

In another filing in U.S. District Court, university officials submitted evidence used to support Jackson’s

discipline.  In that document, NIU officials claim Jackson acted unprofessionally with auditors working on behalf of the state. The document claims Jackson called auditors “stupid” and accused them of being “idiots.” The document says the Illinois Auditor General requested a face-to-face meeting with President Baker and Suttenfield to address difficulties with Jackson during the audit.

Alejandro Caffarelli, who is representing Jackson, tells WNIJ, "we believe that the termination document is pretext, created after the fact when Mr. Jackson refused to sign the resolution agreement as detailed in the Complaint, and will respond all of the matters raised in Defendants' motions to dismiss in due course."

Keith Jackson has been NIU’s Comptroller since 1999. He was placed on paid administrative leave, and filed a federal wrongful-termination lawsuit Oct. 2 against his employers.

Jackson, of Hinckley, claims he was barred from campus by Baker and Suttenfield and placed on involuntary “administrative” leave pending his termination in early 2016.

In court filings, Jackson says Baker asked him to sign off on a contract for Suttenfield to serve as 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 original lawsuit filing, Jackson also claimed 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.

Jackson was a candidate for Business Services Director at Western Illinois University, but did not get the position.

In the original court filing, Jackson claimed “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.”

  • Northern Public Radio is owned by, and licensed to, Northern Illinois University
Jenna Dooley has spent her professional career in public radio. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois - Springfield. She returned to Northern Public Radio in DeKalb after several years hosting Morning Edition at WUIS-FM in Springfield. She is a former "Newsfinder of the Year" from the Illinois Associated Press and recipient of NIU's Donald R. Grubb Journalism Alumni Award. She is an active member of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association and an adjunct instructor at NIU.
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