BLOOMINGTON — A former Hudson police officer has filed a lawsuit against the Village of Hudson, Police Chief Dale Sparks and members of the village board, alleging she was fired because she was pregnant and she complained about Sparks' action in a criminal case.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, asks the court to reinstate Kayley Sprout to her job, and seeks compensation in the form of back pay, and undeclared damages for emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment, punitive damages and attorney fees.
The lawsuit asks the village to stop violating Sprout’s whistleblower rights, and adopt employment practices and policies in accordance with Illinois law.
Village attorney Pat McGrath of Mackinaw was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.
Sprout's attorney, Steven Miller, said, "In today’s environment, I find it surprising that in a male-dominated community, we could have such old-fashioned practices and ways. The lawsuit contends that male police officers, who needed accommodations for medical conditions, were not subjected to the same restrictions and were not terminated.
“It is not OK to have such policies and treat male officers differently than female officers.”
In the lawsuit, filed recently by Miller of the Chicago law firm of Robbins, Schwartz, Nicholas, Lifton & Taylor, Sprout states she began working for the Hudson Police Department on March 30, 2016 and on May 10, 2016, was promoted to a full-time police officer.
On March 17, 2017, Sparks and Pat O’Grady, who was and remains the trustee of police, signed a performance evaluation, and according to the lawsuit, Sprout’s ratings were “outstanding” or “good” in all categories, with no negative comments.
But in April of that year, Sprout contends, she informed then-Mayor Jason Collins, who she identified as “an acquaintance,” that Sparks had tipped off a suspect prior to the execution of a search warrant, so the suspect could remove guns from the home that was the target of the warrant.
“Upon information and belief that the suspect did not have a valid Firearm Owners Identification card, (the) plaintiff believed that these actions on the part of Chief Sparks were a violation of state or federal law, rule or regulation. Specifically, plaintiff believed Sparks' actions to be criminal in nature,” states the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that on April 18, Sprout attended a meeting of the Village Board of Trustees at the request of the mayor. There, she provided the board with information regarding Sparks and the incident involving the search warrant. Sparks was in an adjacent room and his office door was open so he was aware of what was being discussed in the meeting, states the lawsuit.
The complaint also alleges that on May 8, Sparks retaliated against Sprout by extending her probationary period by one month and revoking her access to the evidence room. Sparks said it was because of the investigation.
In July, Sprout met with an Illinois State Police investigator in Normal, one day after informing Sparks and O’Grady that she was pregnant and had a 25-pound lifting restriction. She asked to be switched to day shifts, and when asked by Sparks why she couldn’t work nights, handed him and O’Grady a copy of the Illinois Human Rights Act that contained provisions prohibiting pregnancy discrimination.
“In response, both Chief Sparks and defendant O’Grady stated that they were unaware that a law existed prohibiting pregnancy discrimination,” the lawsuit states.
On July 11, Sparks reassigned Sprout to desk duty, did not allow her access to a squad car and kept her on the night shift, the lawsuit states. Further, he denied her request to work in the evidence room “because of your current medical condition and the fact that contents of some evidence that may possibly be absorbed through the skin or inhaled while in the room,” it states.
On Sept. 5, the village terminated her because it “allegedly did not have any further work available in the police department or anywhere else in the village that would meet the 25-pound lifting restriction imposed by" Sprout's doctor, according to the suit.
Named in the lawsuit in addition to the Village of Hudson, Sparks and O’Grady, are the members of the village board, including Alan Meissner, Allison Brutlag, Dave Brutlag, Sara Hill, Phil Morris, Caleb Post, Betty Scanlon and Kerry Tudor.
Collins resigned as mayor in May 2017, just a day after taking the oath of office for what would have been his first full term. He was appointed mayor in January 2015 after the resignation of Mark Kotte.