Court Affirms $3M Jury Award In Illinois Whistleblower Action
On August 28, 2014, Judge James McCarthy issued a decision in Crawley v. Chicago State University, Case No. 10 L 12657 (Cook County, Ill., Law Div.), affirming payment of over $3 million to Plaintiff James Crowley (“Plaintiff”), a former Chicago State University (“University”) Senior Legal Counsel, following a jury trial on his whistleblower retaliation claim under the Illinois State Official and Employee Ethics Act (“Ethics Act”). We previously reported on the jury’s award in our March 18, 2014 post.
More specifically, the Court issued the following rulings and guidance with respect to interpreting the Ethics Act:
Attorneys’ fees, reinstatement, front pay, interest, double backpay and punitive damages are available remedies under the Ethics Act, as is a jury trial.
While the Court acknowledged that taxpayers and students will ultimately bear the brunt of the sizable jury award, it refused to set aside or otherwise reduce the award, noting that it was properly intended to deter future potential misconduct.
The Court rejected the University’s plea to set aside the jury verdict due to the jury foreman’s failure to disclose his involvement in a wrongful termination case brought by a relative of a University trustee and other litigation, ruling that the foreman was not “intentionally dishonest” and was not influential in the 30-minute jury deliberation.
The Court added to the $3 million dollar verdict by awarding Plaintiff over $318,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs. The Court also awarded front pay (in lieu of reinstatement) based on a $120,000 annual salary through the resolution of any (internal) appeals.
This ruling has extended the growing trend of whistleblower awards in the education arena and the public sector in Illinois. It vividly illustrates the risks that whistleblower actions present, and underscores the need to take proactive measures to pare them.