INVESTIGATION: Milwaukee Area Technical College is investigating a nursing instructor who threatened financial harm against Quality Healthcare Options owner Sally Sprenger because she displayed GOP campaign signs at her business.
By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter
MILWAUKEE, Wis. — Milwaukee Area Technical College has launched an investigation into a nursing instructor who threatened financial harm against a business owner for displaying campaign signs at her company’s headquarters promoting a Republican state senator.
Allison Nicol, a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 212 MATC, informed Quality Healthcare Options owner Sally Sprenger in a letter last month she stopped advising her prospective students to receive training through the company because of Sprenger’s support of Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa.
Nicol, who asked at least 10 of her colleagues to follow her lead, also started looking for other firms that offer refresher courses because she was so upset over Quality Healthcare Options’ political affiliation, according to emails obtained through the state’s open records laws.
“MATC does not condone the conduct of Allison Nicol,” MATC communications director Kathleen Hohl told Wisconsin Reporter Tuesday, the same day the taxpayer-supported school released the records. “Her actions do not represent the position of the college.”
Prior to sending the Oct. 10 letter, Nicol emailed a copy of the document to 10 other MATC instructors and administrators and asked for advice. Nicol also admitted that a co-worker named Judy helped write the letter.
Three nursing department faculty members indicated they backed Nicol’s plan and two remarked the letter was well written.
“Go for it. You have my support,” Kathleen Costa Lieberthal, clinical coordinator of MATC’s Registered Nursing Associate Degree Program, said in an Oct. 13 email.
Nicol responded less than two hours later that she appreciated Lieberthal’s guidance.
“Let’s get the word out to faculty as they advise students,” Nicol said.
Several weeks after sending her letter to Quality Healthcare Options, Nicol asked Lieberthal if she knew of any other companies that offered certified nursing assistant refresher courses. She also inquired about MATC providing the same program.
“I just wanted to explore other options because I was so upset about QHO’s political affiliation, and thought we could offer a refresher course instead of referring students to them,” Nicol said in a Nov. 3 email.
Sprenger first made MATC aware of Nicol’s proposed boycott on Oct. 15, the same day she received the letter.
Wilma Bonaparte, vice president of the Mequon campus, emailed Sprenger a day later saying her concerns were forwarded to the human resources for fact-finding purposes because Nicol didn’t reference her position at MATC in the letter.
Nicol, who also pointed out in her initial email to colleagues she didn’t identify her workplace, was represented in that fact-finding meeting by Dr. Michael Rosen, president of the Local 212. That meeting didn’t occur until nearly a month after Sprenger contacted Bonaparte.
Sprenger maintains Nicol did refer to her affiliation with MATC by using the address of the Mequon campus on the letter’s envelope.
But Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, said it doesn’t matter if Nicol referenced her position at MATC because she’s still acting as an agent of the taxpayer-supported college and state.
“If (Nicol) discriminates against someone on the basis of their viewpoint, I think that constituents viewpoint discrimination on the part of MATC because she’s acting on its behalf,” Esenberg told Wisconsin Reporter. “That, of course, would violate Ms. Sprenger’s First Amendment rights. She cannot be discriminated against based upon her decision to express her political viewpoints.”
Nicol, who signed the petition to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2011, says in her letter she is boycotting Quality Healthcare Options because she alleges Vukmir, a registered nurse, disregarded the Nursing Code of Ethics when she voted against a bill requiring health plans to provide the same coverage for chemotherapy pills.
Nicol also raised concerns over Vukmir’s “disturbing relationship” with the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Vukmir voted for Act 10, Walker’s signature collective bargaining reforms that prohibit the forced unionization of most public-sector employees. Act 10 was also the driving force behind the recall elections in 2011 and 2012.
Nicol contributed $125 in 2012 to the campaign of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate who lost to Walker in the recall election that year. Walker also defeated Barrett in 2010.
Neither Nicol nor Rosen returned multiple calls and emails from Wisconsin Reporter seeking comment.