Jackson, NIU to settle in wrongful termination case

By Roland Hacker

DeKALB — A settlement conference for the wrongful termination lawsuit of former NIU Controller Keith Jackson against NIU, the university’s Board of Trustees, former President Doug Baker and former interim Chief Financial Officer Nancy Suttenfield concluded with a settlement Wednesday.

Settlement terms defined on the record are pending Board approval ahead of a telephonic status hearing set for 9 a.m. May 23, according to court documents.

Jackson alleged the defendants denied him substantive and procedural due process by placing him on involuntary administrative leave, publicized implications that Jackson was engaged in a felony, threatened to terminate him for cause, failed to process his grievances and terminated him, all causing substantial adverse economic effect on Jackson.

“We’re looking forward to the [settlement] conference,” Jackson’s attorney Alejandro Caffarelli said prior to the settlement. “If we can reach an agreement and settle the case, most of the time, that’s best for both parties [instead of reaching] the uncertainty of litigation. If we can’t, we are prepared to try the case.”

Caffarelli could not be reached following the conclusion of the settlement conference.

The attorneys of the defendants could not be reached. NIU could not be immediately reached for comment.

Jackson was the university controller from October 1999 to May 2014 when he was placed on involuntary administrative leave, pending his termination of employment in February 2016. 

Jackson was arrested and charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor as a part of the infamous coffee fund scandal in October 2012.

The coffee fund scandal entailed NIU employees selling university property, mostly scrap metal, and depositing the money in a slush fund used for parties and other social uses. 

All of the coffee fund charges against Jackson were dropped in April 2013.

According to Jackson, when Suttenfield was named interim CFO in October 2013, Jackson was asked to sign off on her contract. Jackson declined, citing a violation of state law.

Because of this, Suttenfield treated Jackson with hostility beginning with their first meeting, Jackson claims.

“I know what you did,” Suttenfield told Jackson, according to Jackson’s factual allegations, alluding to his refusal to sign off on her contract.

In December 2013, Jackson alleges Suttenfield began a series of attempts to have him fired, including hiring a forensic audit firm to find evidence of wrongdoing on Jackson’s part.

According to court documents, Jackson claims he was called into a meeting with Suttenfield in May 2014, who said he was placed on involuntary administrative leave. He never received any verbal or written warning, discipline or other indication that his performance had been unsatisfactory, he claims.

According to Jackson, Suttenfield demanded Jackson sign a resolution agreement that traded his resignation for two weeks of pay and a neutral reference.

Jackson claims he was told if he didn’t sign the agreement, the administration would find cause for his termination.

Suttenfield could not be reached for comment.

Jackson remained on involuntary administrative leave until his annual appointment was not renewed February 2016.