|By Jodi S. Cohen, Chicago Tribune|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
It may be the first verdict stemming from a whistleblower claim filed under the state's ethics act, a 2003 law that laid out guidelines for behavior by state employees, according to the
"We're not aware of another judgment like this," Attorney General spokeswoman
The lawsuit by former Chicago State senior legal counsel
A university attorney argued in court that Crowley was fired for misusing university resources, including reserved parking spaces, and for giving preferential treatment in awarding a scholarship and paying for conference travel for a student.
But a jury last week agreed with Crowley's version of events and awarded him
Crowley's lawsuit was against the university, a public institution on the city's
"I'm very grateful to be free of the false allegations made against me by the Watson administration, and that have negatively affected my career for the past four years," Crowley wrote in a statement to the Tribune. "Hopefully, this prevents them from treating other employees as badly as they've treated me.
"I also hope my case encourages not only employees of
"The University stands behind our decision to defend this case in court. While we disagree with the decision of the jury, we fully respect the judicial process and we will pursue an appeal to their decision," Wogan said in a statement.
Bauer said the attorney general's office was "not aware of another verdict like this under the whistleblower protection provision of the ethics act."
The State Officials and Employees Ethics Act, enacted in 2003 by then-Gov.
The law also established civil and criminal penalties for those who violate the ethics act, and it included whistleblower protections for state workers who report misconduct.
"The goal of the whole system was to encourage people to speak out when they see something wrong," said
Morrison said the jury's decision to award more than
"There is supposed to be a heavy hammer to discourage people from retaliating," Morrison said. "That is part of the cost of corruption that we will have to tally up. It is ultimately the taxpayers who lose, but it is the public official who should bear the fault for that. If they had run a clean ship, that would not have happened. It is up to the administration to set the right tone."
Crowley, 47, a graduate of the
Watson's start date was a contentious issue because it determined whether he was eligible to begin drawing a pension based on his years as chancellor at City Colleges of
According to the lawsuit, in a meeting to discuss what documents to provide in response to the requests, Watson put his hand on Crowley's wrist and said to him: "If you read this my way, you are my friend; If you read it the other way, you are my enemy."
Crowley reported the alleged incident -- which Watson disputed in his testimony -- to the attorney general's office. He also told the office about contracts that he thought had been improperly bid and executed. On
"You have a right if you are a government employee to say to someone, 'I think you need to investigate this,'" Crowley's attorney,
Crowley's attorney said his client made a mistake by not having someone else sign off on the parking expense but that he did nothing improper related to the travel or textbooks, saying they were "trumped-up charges to get (Crowley) out the door."
Ferguson said Crowley's firing could not have been retaliatory because Watson and others did not know that he had met with the attorney general's office. Crowley was fired for "misappropriating university funds for purposes of preferential treatment. That's it," she said.
The university also filed a complaint against Crowley with the state's
Still, Crowley said that complaint, which he is required to acknowledge on job applications, has prevented him from securing employment. He has had one nine-month contract job in the four years since he was fired from
Pinelli, Crowley's attorney, called the judgment a "very significant but completely lawful amount." The jury had discretion in deciding the award. Crowley's complaint had asked for "an amount of damages sufficient to prevent further violations of the act," in excess of
"A small amount wouldn't get their attention," Pinelli said. "They needed to do something large enough. My conversation with the jurors afterward said it was to send a message."
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