Protestors Rally Around Illinois Hospital for Fired Lesbian Nurse

About 50 protesters, wearing yellow buttons that read “Ask me about Lynn Sprouts,” lined the sidewalks in front of the Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, Ill., on Monday afternoon holding signs labeled “Same Sex Same Rights,” “Family Medical Leave for All Employees,” and “No Discrimination at Carle.” The protesters, along with honking cars, passersby and one Carle nurse who came out during her lunch break, supported Sprout’s cause — policy changes at Carle to provide civil rights for the gay and lesbian community. Sprout, a former pediatric nurse manager at Carle, was fired from her job on May 20, 2002, “solely on the basis of her performance,” according to a press release from Carle on Nov. 17. But Sprout and her supporters said she was discriminated against for taking leave to see her lesbian partner. “I want policy changes,” Sprout said. Sprout declined two financial settlements, one of $28,000 and the most recent of $35,000, that Carle offered in exchange for Sprout not disclosing any details of the case, verbally or on paper. In a press release, Carle said, “To be perfectly clear, Ms. Sprout initiated the settlement discussions, not Carle Foundation Hospital.” Sprout held a sign at the rally that read “Carle can’t buy this lesbian’s silence.” In mid-2001, Sprout began to take days off of work to care for her partner of 18 years, Linda Schurvinske, because she was dying of non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. When Sprout heard a rumor that her boss was thinking about firing her, Sprout decided to come out as a lesbian to her boss Ramona Cheek, vice president of patient care at Carle, in August 2001, hoping Cheek would understand the struggle. “[Cheek] just stared at me and then said, ‘You are just not the right mix for our hospital,'” Sprout said at the rally.Cheek was out of town and unavailable for comment for this story. Sprout said she was under great scrutiny from that point on. She said she was discriminated against at work, held to higher standards and expected to complete activities other nurses were not. “I was struggling trying to balance work and the love of my life,” Sprout said. “I told her I would not let her suffer and die.” Sprout said she was positive that if it had been her husband and not her partner, who Cheek claimed was not a family member, Carle would have given the family leave that is given to heterosexual couples. When Sprout’s partner became very sick, Sprout used her vacation days up until the day her partner died. She was only able to attend the funeral because her fellow employees donated their sick days to her, and she was expected back at work the following day. Exactly 160 days after Sprout came out to her boss, she was fired, even though she had a good evaluation after her 90-day probation. Having to support eight children, five of her partner’s and three of her own, and 14 grandchildren, Sprout said she pleaded with Cheek to allow her to work in other departments, such as neo-natal and obstetrics. “All Ramona [Cheek] said to me was, ‘We prefer that you do not work anywhere at Carle Hospital,'” Sprout said. In 2002, Sprout filed a complaint of discrimination with the Urbana Human Relations Commission under the Urbana Human Rights Ordinance and is scheduled for a hearing on Jan. 27, 2004.Many current employees at Carle support her, but she said they fear losing their jobs like she did. Sprout said she knows other openly gay employees at Carle, but they are not on the pediatrics floor. Allie Shepko, a Champaign, Ill., resident for 13 years and a lesbian, was protesting while embracing her toddler son, Jacob. “Just the thought of not being able to look after your partner when your love is dying is disheartening,” Shepko said. “And for Carle to think it is nothing is heartless.” The Rev. Heidi Weatherford, pastor of the McKinley Presbyterian Church in Champaign, said a rally such as Friday’s event does two things: raises awareness of injustice and awareness that if there is an Urbana Human Rights Ordinance, it should be enforced.