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Suit: Columbia College CFO fired for testimony in colleague’s suit

Updated: June 22, 2012 12:50AM

The former Chief Financial Officer of Columbia College is suing the school, claiming he was fired for supporting a professor he believed was wrongfully terminated.

Michael DeSalle claims he was a vocal supporter of professor Zafra Lerman in a wrongful termination suit that accused the school of firing her for her Israeli heritage, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Chicago.

DeSalle was serving as Columbia’s CFO when Lerman contacted him about transferring $30,000 from one grant to another, according to the suit. An outside consulting firm had earned the No Child Left Behind grant money and wanted it to be donated to another grant-funded project involving Lerman. DeSalle said the transfer was appropriate, and maintained that position after Lerman was fired for the transaction in October 2009, according to the suit.

Columbia initially told DeSalle not to inquire further into Lerman’s termination after he expressed his “serious concerns about the alleged basis of Lerman’s termination,” according to the suit.

DeSalle claims he was subpoenaed as part of Lerman’s suit, so he provided documents related to Lerman’s firing and gave a deposition. While he prepared to respond to the subpoena he was placed on involuntary sabbatical, his tenure was denied and he was ultimately fired.

In the suit, DeSalle claims the Board of Trustees chairman told him he wanted to close the Science Institute, which Lerman chaired, and was angry that she would have to maintain her position at the school even after it closed.

The three-count suit alleges violations of the Illinois Whistleblower Act and breach of contract, and it seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

A Columbia College spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

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