Federal lawsuits piling up at College of DuPage

  • The College of DuPage has been hit with as many federal lawsuits in the last five months as it faced in the previous five years, according to court records.

    The College of DuPage has been hit with as many federal lawsuits in the last five months as it faced in the previous five years, according to court records. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Updated 12/7/2015 8:52 AM

The College of DuPage has been drawn into as many federal lawsuits during the past five months as it faced in the previous five years combined.

Since August, the Glen Ellyn-based school has been named as a defendant in four separate suits, including one filed by a student who claims campus police used excessive force against her. The school's lawyers also are expected to defend the board of the trustees against a fifth lawsuit -- the wrongful termination case brought by former COD President Robert Breuder.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In comparison, the college was sued in federal court only five times between 2009 and 2014, records show. Most of those cases took more than a year to resolve.

COD board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton said in a written statement that it's impossible to predict how long it will take for the new cases to be resolved. But, she added, "we are confident in each that our actions will be vindicated by the court."

The board of trustees set aside $3.4 million to cover the college's legal expenses during the current fiscal year, which started July 1.

Hamilton, however, said she doesn't expect the lawsuits to result in major expense for the school. And she insists the legal issues won't be a distraction for the college.

"Nothing will distract us from reforming and improving COD," Hamilton said. "If anything, the lawsuits will remind us to remain vigilant and why reform is so vitally necessary."

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Here's a quick look at the lawsuits:

• The American Center For Excellence In Surgical Assisting, Inc. sued the college in August, claiming the school in 2014 wrongfully terminated a deal with the Colorado-based company. ACE says it worked for 10 months to help COD create a surgical assistance program when the college "abruptly terminated the relationship with ACE and instituted its own program using the materials ACE provided to them."

The six counts listed in the lawsuit include breach of contract, fraud, misappropriation of trade secrets and conversion.

The company, which claims it was promised a $4,100-per-student fee for two years, is seeking compensatory damages "in an amount to be determined at trial."

• Less than 24 hours after being fired as president of COD in October, Breuder sued the school's seven-member board of trustees and specifically four of its members -- Hamilton and trustees Deanne Mazzochi, Frank Napolitano and Charles Bernstein.

On Oct. 20, the four trustees approved a resolution to fire Breuder about five months before he was scheduled to step down with a controversial $763,000 severance package.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The lawsuit claims Hamilton, Mazzochi, Napolitano and Bernstein decided "to wrongfully terminate Dr. Breuder long before Oct. 20, 2015, based solely on their personal interests and political agendas."

The COD board majority said it fired Breuder in the wake of internal investigations that, according to a termination resolution, found evidence of "misconduct and mismanagement" that Breuder "participated in, oversaw or failed to prevent."

Breuder's lawsuit says the charges outlined in the board's resolution were "baseless and nothing more than pretext" for the four board members' "predetermination" to fire Breuder, who began work as COD's president on Jan. 1, 2009.

The college responded by issuing a statement that says the board stands by its action to fire Breuder.

"It (the board) denies the baseless allegations in his lawsuit," a statement from the board reads. "The board will vigorously defend this case in court."

Breuder is seeking more than $2 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

• The first of two federal lawsuits filed against COD in November came not from a former vendor or employee, but a student.

Jaclyn Pazera, 27, of Willowbrook, claims in her lawsuit that two campus police officers used excessive force when they arrested her last December.

Pazera alleges the two officers forced her to the ground and manhandled her after "aggressively following her" and finding her sitting at a desk in a philosophy class. She was arrested after she was found smoking a cigarette outside the building during a break. The arrest was caught on video.

Pazera, who said she sustained several "recurring injuries" to her wrist and shoulder during the altercation, is seeking unspecified monetary damages and her legal fees.

• The second lawsuit in November was filed by a retired College of DuPage Foundation employee who claims the foundation's former executive director and another administrator discriminated against him for being the only man in his department.

Thomas Simandl, the foundation's former director of development, claims in the suit that former foundation Executive Director Catherine Brod started discriminating against him shortly after she was hired in March 2012, passing him over for promotions and pay increases.

The college declined to comment about that suit.

• From the time two fired COD administrators -- Thomas Glaser and Lynn Sapyta -- abandoned plans in October to appeal their terminations, it was clear a lawsuit was coming.

On Tuesday, Glaser and Sapyta formally sued Hamilton and acting interim President Joseph Collins, claiming the September firings violated their constitutional rights of free speech and free association.

Both administrators campaigned against trustees Mazzochi, Napolitano and Bernstein. All three were supported by Hamilton during the spring election.

Once Hamilton became board chairwoman and gained control of the seven-member panel, she used her position to create policy for COD, "including directing defendant Joseph Collins to unlawfully terminate" Glaser and Sapyta, according to the lawsuit.

The college responded by saying the lawsuit "makes false allegations." The school's statement says the assertions made by Glaser and Sapyta "are clearly contradicted by well-established facts."

Glaser and Sapyta were fired in September by Collins for what he said was a failure to protect the financial integrity of the Glen Ellyn-based school. Glaser served as senior vice president of administration and treasurer, and Sapyta was assistant vice president of financial affairs and controller.

Sapyta and Glaser were put on leave in June after an audit revealed the college lost roughly $2.2 million in the Illinois Metropolitan Investment Fund. But the lawsuit says Hamilton planned to fire Glaser and Sapyta before an internal investigation into their actions was completed.

The lawsuit is seeking various items of relief, including back wages and benefits lost, loss of earning capacity, compensatory damages in an amount to be determined and punitive damages in an amount to be determined.

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