A former top financial administrator at Northern Illinois University is suing the university in federal court.
Former controller Keith Jackson alleges he is being fired without cause as an act of retaliation for refusing to sign off on a contract hire by NIU President Doug Baker that, Jackson felt, broke state law.
Named as defendants in the five-count federal lawsuit are Baker, former interim Chief Financial Officer Nancy Suttenfield, and the NIU Board of Trustees.
According to his lawsuit, Jackson refused to sign off on the contract to hire Suttenfield because he believed it needed board approval. He also believes it would’ve broken state purchasing laws since the work wasn’t competitively bid.
According to the suit, Suttenfield was instead paid through the NIU Foundation, and that he was put on administrative leave five months later. He says he was later told he was being terminated after refusing to resign.
In his suit, Jackson claims his federal due process rights have been violated because he’s being fired for no reason. He says Suttenfield’s written reasons for his firing were either false or misrepresentations.
His lawsuit goes on to claim that Baker and the current university administration have engaged in a pattern of placing employees on leave, cutting off their email, barring them from campus, and “threatening to fabricate bogus charges” in order to pressure them to resign.
Jackson also alleges that the university violated the Illinois’ Whistleblower Act by firing him for refusing to sign off on a contract that, he felt, would’ve violated the state’s bidding laws.
According to the suit, Jackson will be terminated in February after being told by the university that his contract will not be renewed. He’s on leave till then.
It’s the second time he’s been placed on leave by the university. The first time was in 2012 when Jackson was charged in the coffee fund case, in which scrap metal recycling proceeds weren’t being turned over to the state. However, the suit notes the charges against him were dropped.
Jackson is asking for a judge to reinstate him as NIU’s controller and to be awarded for compensatory and punitive damages.
When asked about the lawsuit, NIU spokesperson Joe King said the university does not comment on pending litigation.