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Lawsuit accuses Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center of discrimination

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MATTOON — A newly filed federal lawsuit accuses Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center of harassment of a nursing student because of his sexual orientation.

Ethan Richardson says in the suit that he faced the treatment after others at the hospital learned that he's gay and, later, that he became engaged to a man.

Richardson said he tried to discuss the harassment with supervisors but there was no progress and he was ultimately fired in October of last year.

In a statement in response to the lawsuit, SBLHC officials denied the allegations in the suit and said they're "confident it will be dismissed."

Among the disputes it has with the suit's contentions, the statement said Richardson wasn't terminated as he claimed and never expressed concerns about his treatment until he left his position.

Richardson's allegations against the hospital first became public in June. His attorneys released information on complaints they'd filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Records in the federal lawsuit indicate that the state and federal agencies both opted not to pursue the matter. That didn't clear SBLHC of the allegations but gave Richardson the right to pursue a lawsuit.

The lawsuit says Richardson worked in a variety of positions at the SBLHC pharmacy while he attended nursing school.

According to the suit, the harassment began in December 2018 when he posted on social media that he was in a relationship with another man. The conduct worsened after he announced their engagement in May of last year, it says.

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The suit also says reports to supervisors went unheeded and Richardson was urged not to take the matter to the hospital's human resources department. He was ultimately fired for what were called "performance issues" after he gave his notice, it says.

In SBLHC's response, hospital Vice President of Human Resources Debbie Saddoris said Richardson was told of problems with his work, including attendance issues, starting in April of last year.

It also said that, in his resignation letter, Richardson enjoyed his time working at the hospital.

“Sarah Bush Lincoln has a culture of acceptance and non-discrimination," Saddoris said in the statement. "It does not tolerate harassment of any kind."

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Urbana and no hearings are yet scheduled. The case asks that SBLHC be ordered to adopt policies to curtail harassment and for unspecified monetary damages.

Charleston attorney Jake Smallhorn and Chicago attorney Jeffrey Kulwin are representing Richardson and filed the lawsuit on his behalf.

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