Political Intrigue, Sex, And Money

| William A. Schreiner, Jr.

"college system trouble"

We see – and report on – plenty of whistleblower complaints here at Suits-by-Suits. We’re mostly interested in how those complaints play out legally, and what they can teach us about ways to avoid, or manage, whistleblower disputes and what leads to them.  But outside of the law, some complaints include alleged facts that just tell a compelling story in and of themselves. 

How about these allegations in Glenn Meeks’ wrongful termination complaint against Chicago State University: Financial mismanagement, a romantic relationship between top university executives, high-level posts filled with unqualified personnel, intrigue on the university’s board of trustees after Meeks complained of these things, and – a bonus, from a storytelling perspective – a suspicion of improper interference by the Governor of Illinois in the whole thing. 

And another bonus: Meeks filed his complaint in Illinois state court just two weeks after another whistleblower at the same university was awarded $2.5 million 

This story starts with Mr. Meeks, who was fired from his job as Chicago State’s vice-president for administration and finance.  In his complaint – where, of course, he has an incentive to portray himself in the best light – Meeks asserts he took a pay cut to take the university job, because he had high hopes of making a difference at the school.

But his hopes soon faded, Meeks alleges, when he discovered what he says were examples of inappropriate, incompetent and/or unethical management by the university’s president, Wayne Watson.  Meeks alleges, among other things, that President Watson had radically increased spending on salaries in the enrollment office, even though enrollment was on the decline and didn’t justify it.  He says the spending was a result of President Watson’s romantic relationship with the new vice-president for enrollment – who Meeks says was not qualified for that job, and, he claims, falsified her resume when she applied for it. 

Meeks reported these allegations to some of the university’s trustees.  Those trustees began looking into President Watson’s conduct, but before they could get far, their terms ran out and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn didn’t reappoint them.  The Governor’s alleged involvement, again according to Meeks, doesn’t end there: Meeks says he approached Governor Quinn at a luncheon and urged Quinn to reappoint the trustees that were looking into the allegations against President Watson.  (The Governor is not currently a defendant in the suit, but Meeks’ lawyer says he may eventually be added into it). 

Meeks was fired the next day, for what the university says were a “series of job performance issues.”  He is seeking reinstatement and back pay for what he alleges is a violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act.  The university has not yet answered his complaint, but says it is confident it will be “vindicated by the judicial process.”  As always, we take no position on whether Meeks’s factual allegations are true or false, and it’s too early to tell how far he will get legally with his claim – the university will surely have some contrary facts it will allege, and perhaps defenses based solely on the law.  But either way, when you mix politics, sex, mismanagement of money, and bake it all in the somewhat combustive setting of university politics, you’ve got an interesting whistleblower case, and one we’ll keep an eye on.