Carle receives guilty verdict

By Lauren Eichmann

After a struggle that lasted nearly two years and testimony spanning more than three months, the Urbana Human Relations Commission declared on Nov. 17 that Carle Hospital was guilty of firing former pediatric nurse Lynn Sprout on the basis of her sexual orientation. But Carle plans to appeal the decision, according to a statement released last week.

A decision as to the repercussions facing Carle Hospital is expected to take place sometime in December or early 2005. Following the order, Carle Hospital plans to appeal before the 6th District State Court.

“We look forward to appealing this case and establishing once and for all that Carle Foundation Hospital terminated this employee solely on the basis of her poor work performance,” said Carle spokeswoman Gretchen Robbins in a press release.

When Sprout was fired in 2002 after 15 years of working at Carle Hospital, she filed a complaint with the Urbana Human Relations Commission. According to Sprout, the hospital unlawfully fired her after she revealed that her partner of 18 years, Linda Schurvinske, was dying.

Sprout had been taking time off to be with Schurvinske, yet the couple was not eligible for Carle’s Family Medical Leave Act because they were not legally married.

The Urbana Human Relations Commission, which is in charge of “investigating complaints of discrimination,” ultimately determined the guilty verdict, said Vacellia Clark, human relations officer for the city of Urbana. The commission, which is made up of citizens appointed by the mayor, weighed the evidence presented to make their decision.

Last February, Clark, who was responsible for investigating the issue, said she could find no way Carle Hospital had violated city codes for firing Sprout on the basis of leave. However, she did declare probable cause that Sprout was fired due to her sexual orientation. The case then went to the Urbana Human Relations Commission, which determined that her termination did violate city codes.

“I feel that the evidence was very much in Lynn’s favor,” said Traci Nally, the lawyer representing Sprout. “She was the victim of an Urbana city ordinance violation (of unlawful discrimination while employed).”

Nally said Sprout was treated differently than similar nurses in her field that were not homosexual.

The 85% Coalition, a direct-action group demanding civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) residents of Illinois, provided Sprout with everything from emotional support to publicly organizing rallies, raising funds for her case and even preparing meals at the hearing, said co-founder Kimberlie Kranich.

“We are the support behind Lynn Sprout,” Kranich said of her organization’s efforts toward the civil rights case.

Although Carle Hospital originally offered Sprout a $35,000 settlement that would have prevented her from discussing her case publicly or in written form, Sprout denied the offer. In a press release, Carle Hospital said it was Sprout who had initiated the settlement terms, and that the hospital never has – nor will ever – discriminate against employees based upon their sexual orientations. According to the Federal Family Leave Policies, the federal government does not make employers obligated to grant extended leave to same sex or unmarried couples.

“We are deeply disappointed with the final ruling of the Urban Human Relations Commission,” Robbins said in the press release. “Carle Foundation Hospital celebrates diversity and values its exceptional employees. As a provider of critical health care services, we must be able to demand and maintain high work performance standards in the best interest of our patients and current employees.”

85% Coalition hopes to convince Carle Hospital – and ultimately other businesses – to make policy changes that would demand full equality and treatment of LGBT employees under the law. This would require that they receive the same benefits and treatment as heterosexual workers.

“What should be considered a non-issue has become an issue,” Kranich said.

Providing everyone with family medical leave, regardless of sexual orientation, would contribute “no financial strain on Carle Hospital,” she said. “It is a very small direct financial cost to provide this.”

After being fired, Sprout has been trying to get her job back, receive back pay and encourage a change in the hospital’s policy. Sprout now holds a job in a Champaign nursing home where she earns roughly $20,000 less per year than she did with her job at Carle.

Though the commission will soon make a decision as to how Sprout will be compensated in the case, Sprout will not receive any of the compensation until after the appeal process is over.

“It will still be years down the line before this gets settled,” Kranich said.