College of DuPage board seeks $25 million in damages from Robert Breuder
The College of DuPage board of trustees is seeking at least $25 million in damages from former President Robert Breuder as part of a counterclaim filed late Friday in federal court.
The move comes in response to Breuder's federal lawsuit filed more than two years ago claiming he was wrongfully terminated.
On Friday, defendants in that case responded with a list of denials and counterclaims. In addition to at least $25 million in compensatory damages, the board is seeking punitive damages and legal fees.
Breuder filed his lawsuit in October 2015, one day after being fired as president of the Glen Ellyn-based school. The suit names the board, former Trustee Kathy Hamilton and current members Chairwoman Deanne Mazzochi, Frank Napolitano and Charles Bernstein as defendants.
Hamilton, Mazzochi, Napolitano and Bernstein voted on Oct. 20, 2015, to fire Breuder roughly five months before he was scheduled to step down with a $763,000 severance package.
According to Breuder's lawsuit, Hamilton, with the help of the other trustees, ran a "malicious and wrongful scheme" that "tarnished" his professional reputation while trampling on his contractual and constitutional rights. The lawsuit also claims the defendants decided to terminate Breuder "long before October 20, 2015, based solely on their personal interests and political agendas."
But in separate responses Friday, lawyers for the board, Mazzochi, Napolitano and Bernstein denied Breuder's claims. Attorneys for Hamilton have until next month to file her response.
The board's 78-page response says "Breuder oversaw an era of waste, fraud and abuse" that "caused real harm to the college and, in many cases, direct benefits to Breuder and those close to him."
"For years," the school's response says, "Breuder ran the college like his own private enterprise, rather than as a taxpayer-funded public institution."
"Ultimately," the filing says, "Breuder's poor choices led to a cascade of crises" that included a vote of no confidence from the college's faculty, a critical audit and "perhaps, most gravely, a decision by the Higher Learning Commission to put the college's accreditation on probation."
The college says it is "compelled to bring" counterclaims for damages "to hold Breuder accountable for the serious harm he caused."
Breuder's attorney, Martin Dolan, said Friday evening he had not yet seen the filing in response to a request for comment.
College of DuPage spokeswoman Wendy Parks said the school doesn't comment on pending litigation.
"We will pursue a variety of available efforts to make ourselves whole and look forward to presenting our side of the case."
The board's complaint attacks Breuder on numerous fronts, including :
• His focus on construction that "was filled with waste, favoritism and excess" in which he favored vendors he "personally selected for projects without soliciting bids or considering cost."
• His patronage of the upscale Waterleaf restaurant on campus where he and others under his direction charged the college with more than $250,000 for lunches and dinners.
• His role in the college losing a $20 million state grant as a result of an email he wrote to the board in 2014.
• His failure to "oversee key parts of the college's financial affairs," allowing internal controls to break down and policies to be violated without making changes when problems were identified.
• His interference in gathering material in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.
• The faculty's vote of no confidence in his leadership in September 2014.
• The Higher Learning Commission's decision to place the college on probation "after scrutinizing Breuder's conduct."
• Breuder's actions in "wiping" his college-issued iPad in 2015.
The board long has claimed that it fired Breuder after internal investigations -- according to the termination resolution -- found evidence of "misconduct and mismanagement" that Breuder "participated in, oversaw or failed to prevent."
The resolution said Breuder, who was on paid administrative from April 2015 until his firing, "violated specific policies established by the college, violated board of trustee and legal directives, breached his duties and engaged in conduct damaging to the reputation of the college and the reputation of the office of the college president."
In Mazzochi's response, her attorneys say that "multiple grounds existed to terminate Dr. Breuder's employment, including but not limited to those outlined in the subsequent board resolution."
In his lawsuit, Breuder claims he was denied due process. For example, he alleges the board-approved investigation into his activities during his tenure as president were a "witch-hunt" that resulted in no evidence of wrongdoing.
Mazzochi, Napolitano, Bernstein and the board deny those allegations. They also reject Breuder's claim that his 14th Amendment rights to due process were denied by the college and the board.
Mazzochi, Napolitano and Bernstein also deny they conspired with Hamilton to run for office with a campaign platform that vilified Breuder.
The board's vote to fire Breuder voided the school's $763,000 severance package with him -- a package approved by the previous board and staunchly opposed by Hamilton and her allies.