7 years after suing COD, Robert Breuder will receive a $4 million settlement

More than seven years after former College of DuPage President Robert Breuder sued the school's board for wrongful termination, he's poised to receive $4 million to end the lengthy legal fight.

Breuder and the college's insurance provider have reached a tentative agreement to settle the lawsuit. On Thursday, trustees unanimously agreed to drop any counterclaims against Breuder - a move that will allow the settlement deal to be finalized.

Now, Breuder is set to receive a $4 million payment from the insurance carrier, the Illinois Community College Risk Management Consortium. Breuder then will end his lawsuit against the board and the board will formally drop a counterclaim it filed in 2018. A judge would have to sign off on the dismissal of all the claims.

"The board's vote brings closure to a case that began more than seven years ago, before any current trustee was a member of the board, and resolves all claims at no direct cost to the institution beyond the initial deductible incurred by the college, as all other legal costs were paid by ICCRMC," COD Board Chairman Maureen Dunne said, reading a prepared statement. "The board believes that its fiduciary responsibility to the college and community is best served by supporting the settlement agreement between ICCRMC and Breuder and putting the lawsuit behind the institution."

Breuder released a written statement through his attorney on Thursday night in response to the board's vote.

"The settlement marks the end of a yearslong saga that put an undeserving and unfounded blight on my reputation and achievements at the College of DuPage," Breuder said in his statement. "Despite the unjust turmoil this ordeal has caused to me and my family, I remain proud of my work and everything that was accomplished during my tenure as President of the College of DuPage. This settlement validates those accomplishments for me and enables me and the College of DuPage to move forward."

Breuder filed the federal lawsuit in October 2015, one day after being fired. The suit named the board and specifically four of its members - Kathy Hamilton, Deanne Mazzochi, Frank Napolitano and Charles Bernstein.

Hamilton, Mazzochi, Napolitano and Bernstein voted on Oct. 20, 2015, to fire Breuder roughly five months before he was scheduled to step down with about a $763,000 severance package.

Breuder's lawsuit claimed 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 claimed the defendants decided to terminate Breuder "long before October 20, 2015, based solely on their personal interests and political agendas."

The Illinois Community College Risk Management Consortium, a risk pool of state community colleges, has assumed the cost of defending the COD board during the years of litigation. The insurance provider directed that the lawsuit be settled "to avoid further expense," according to a staff memo to the COD board.

Court records show that the consortium has spent more than $9 million defending the COD board and the now former trustees. Of that amount, more than $3.7 million was spent on costs related to the handling of defense of Hamilton, who had become the board's chair in 2015.

Earlier Thursday, Hamilton through her attorney stressed that the settlement agreement is between Breuder and the insurance company, and it was the insurance company that decided to settle the lawsuit.

She said she "opposed giving Dr. Breuder any money." She also thanked taxpayers who "supported her during these difficult" seven years of litigation.

Hamilton said she is "proud of her COD leadership that resulted in many positive changes in COD policy and procedures, which have and will continue to benefit the students of COD, taxpayers and citizens."

An attorney for Napolitano and Bernstein declined to comment and pointed to the college's statement.

During his time at COD, Breuder oversaw a $550 million transformation of its Glen Ellyn campus. But his tenure also was filled with discord, including a 2014 "no confidence" vote by faculty members. That faculty vote was among several factors that prompted trustees to seek a change in school leadership.

In his lawsuit, Breuder claimed he was denied due process. He alleged that a board-approved investigation into his activities during his tenure as president was a "witch-hunt" that resulted in no evidence of wrongdoing.

Mazzochi, Napolitano, Bernstein and the board denied those allegations.

The board's vote to fire Breuder voided the school's $763,000 severance package with him - a package approved by a previous board and staunchly opposed by Hamilton and her allies.

• Daily Herald staff writer Susan Sarkauskas contributed to this report

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