No trial date for lawsuit against NIU

Former+interim+CFO+Nancy+Suttenfield+speaks+about+NIUs+budget+proposal+during+a+Board+of+Trustees+Finance%2C+Facilities+and+Operations+Committee+meeting+Sept.+1%2C+2014+in+Altgeld+Hall.

Former interim CFO Nancy Suttenfield speaks about NIU’s budget proposal during a Board of Trustees Finance, Facilities and Operations Committee meeting Sept. 1, 2014 in Altgeld Hall.

By Keith Hernandez

ROCKFORD — Pretrial proceedings for a revised lawsuit by a former controller against NIU will continue with a telephonic status hearing on February.

The hearing comes almost one year after plaintiff Keith Jackson’s original complaint against NIU, the Board of Trustees, President Doug Baker and Nancy Suttenfield, former interim chief financial officer was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Frederick Kapala. An amended complaint filed almost a month later, like the original, states Jackson seeks injunctive and compensatory relief for a series of retaliatory actions by the Baker administration that led to his termination.

The complaint alleges Jackson was placed on administrative leave and barred from NIU during a meeting with Suttenfield in May 2014 because he refused to sign off on a contract for her position as NIU chief financial officer in the previous semester, an action he claims would have violated state procurement laws that require competitive bidding.

“Defendant Suttenfield called Mr. Jackson into a meeting with and told that the President (Defendant Baker) had decided that it was ‘time for [Mr. Jackson] to go,’ or words to that effect,” the lawsuit alleges. “This meeting was called without warning, and Mr. Jackson had not previously received any verbal or written warning, discipline or other indication that his performance had been unsatisfactory.”

An answer to this allegation filedFriday by Suttenfield’s attorney to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois claims although the meeting with Jackson occurred, she denies all other allegations.

A letter to Jackson signed by Suttenfield on May 27, 2014, laid out several charges that were used as the basis for his leave and eventual termination in February 2016. Among the charges was a complaint by the Illinois Auditor General claiming Jackson acted unprofessionally toward auditors of private auditing firm, McGladrey, in January 2014, calling them “stupid” and “idiots.”

Because of the severity of Jackson’s punishment and association with the previous administration’s “coffee fund” scandal, of which he was cleared of all charges, the complaint states his ability to seek employment at other colleges and universities has been ruined. He applied for a position at Western Illinois University in June 2014 and associate vice president of finance at NIU in June 2015, but did not receive either job.

“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,” the lawsuit alleges.

That allegation was denied in an answer filed Friday by Assistant Attorney General Kevin Lovellette on behalf of NIU, the Board of Trustees and Baker.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Schieber declined comment.

The telephonic status hearing is scheduled to take place 1:30 p.m. Feb. 7.


Keith Hernandez is a staff writer. He can be reached at editor@northernstar.info.

Correction: Jeffrey Schieber is the defense attorney who declined comment.