Former UIUC professor sues for $7.8 million over breach of contract

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URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — A former University of Illinois professor is taking the board of trustees to court to the tune of $7.9 million.

Attorneys for Joe Petry filed a legal complaint with the Illinois Court of Claims on Thursday alleging a breach of contract by UI officials.

Among other things, the complaint says that the UI board of trustees violated a resignation agreement Petry signed in April 2019 by not discontinuing an ongoing investigation into alleged misconduct between Petry and one of his students.

“The University’s investigation continued for almost a full year before finally concluding that the
initial allegations against Professor Petry were not credible, and there had been no violation of the
University’s Sexual Harassment Policy,” attorneys with Urbana-based Webber Thies said in a release. “Nonetheless, the University s breach gave credibility to false and salacious allegations which, along with statements from the University, severely damaged Professor Petry s reputation and economic prospects.”

The complaint alleges that claims of sexual harassment by Petry toward former student Sundas Naqvi were “false” and that the continued investigation by the UI eventually concluded that he had not violated the university’s Sexual Harassment Policy. Naqvi had alleged Petry sexually harrassed her — according to the complaint, evidence collected by the university during the investigation contradicted the allegations. Among other things, one student interviewed testified that Naqvi’s allegations were made up to receive a better grade.

The university, however, continued to investigate Petry for a potential violation of its Code of Conduct and did determine Petry’s actions had been “harmful to the public’s trust and confidence in the University’s integrity and were incompatible with his obligations to the University.”

“By deliberately breaching the agreement and proceeding with its investigation, the university appears to have placed a priority on avoiding criticism that it was weak on claims of sexual harassment, no matter how meritless the allegations and no matter how much it would damage a distinguished member of its faculty,” attorney John Thies said.

“I was the target of blackmail by Ms. Naqvi and a double-cross by University decision-makers,” Petry wrote in a statement. “Members of the university community deserve better. I have been associated as a faculty member for eighteen years. I am far from a perfect individual, but this does not justify the University’s utter disregard for its contractual obligations and the ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach taken toward me.”

The complaint says the agreement between the UI and Petry did not require him to respond to the allegations against him, so as the investigation was reported in the media, Petry did not speak out personally on the matter.

Petry is seeking damages of $7.8 million, which includes $5 million in lost wages (assuming he would have been employed with the UI until age 75) and an additional $2 million in damages related to the help he sought for multiple forms of mental distress, including anxiety and depression.

The UI has not yet responded to a call for comment on the suit.

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