The Village Board of Hudson received a petition Tuesday night signed by nearly 1,450 residents in support of a female police officer who was fired after becoming pregnant.
The town said Kayley Sprout was terminated because she was no longer able to perform her duties. Sprout was Hudson's only female officer.
Jamie Current, a Hudson resident who spearheaded the petition drive, said the town applied a double standard in dismissing Sprout.
She said the town had continued to employ Hudson’s police chief, Dale Sparks, who had taken time off and adjusted his duties following lung replacement surgery in 2015.
“We thought (women) had handled that kind of thing a long time ago, but unfortunately in Hudson a pregnant woman is being discriminated against. She lost her job, her insurance and her income,” Current said after the village board meeting.
Sprout, who was not at the meeting, has retained an attorney from the Springfield law firm of Baker, Baker and Krajewski, but has not yet filed a lawsuit. Current said she is concerned a suit could cost the taxpayers of Hudson.
“This is going to result in a lot of legal fees and just waste,” Current said.
Protesters maintain that the village violated the Illinois Human Rights Act, which requires employers to make "reasonable accommodation" for pregnant employees. The act says women "affected by childbirth, or medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes ... as other persons not so affected."
Following public comment, the board discussed the matter in a closed session and voted to hire Robert Smith of the Clark Baird Smith law firm in Des Plaines, an attorney who specializes in labor law, to advise the village.
Trygve Meade, attorney for the board, said the village had not violated any laws because the state Human Rights Act also protects employers from undue hardship.
“The village of Hudson is an equal opportunity employer. The Illinois Human Rights Act has certain exceptions when a village is not operationally able to accommodate the particular circumstances of an employee, and that is the case here,” Meade said.
The Hudson police department is budgeted for two full-time and five part-time officers. Currently, only the chief and one part-time officer are working, Current said.
“Due to the small size of the department, not having an officer available to work assignments for a prolonged period of time creates an undue burden on the operations of the department,” the village said in a statement.
“The village is not required to create additional employment that it would have not otherwise created in order to accommodate an employee’s work restrictions," the statement continued.
Chief Sparks attended the meeting, but made no comment.
In her remarks at the public meeting, Current said that Sprout was one of three officers who reported alleged misconduct by Sparks to Hudson's former board president, Jason Collins, and later to the Illinois State Police. One of the other officers was later fired, then reinstated and is now on administrative leave, Current said.
The status of the State Police investigation could not be determined. Collins resigned from the village board in May.
Several other residents also spoke on Sprout’s behalf.
“She was a really community-oriented police officer. I would see her chatting with neighbors, treating townspeople and children, everybody with kindness,” said Becky Roesner, a Hudson resident who teaches chemistry at Illinois Wesleyan University.
“If it is indeed true she was dismissed for being pregnant I believe that is against the law and certainly against my ethics,” Roesner said.
A dismissal notice Sprout received said she was being dismissed because of an “inability to perform the position you were hired to do.”
The notice also said, “We welcome you to re-apply for employment with the village once your lifting restrictions have been removed.”
WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.