FIRESTORM: Local business owner Sally Sprenger could lose some of her clients after a college instructor apparently threatened her for displaying campaign signs for a Republican senator at her company’s headquarters.
By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter
WAUWATOSA, Wis. — A business owner who helped promote a Republican state senator says a nursing instructor with union ties wrote a letter threatening her company with financial harm.
In the letter, the signatory, Allison Nicol, says she has stopped advising prospective students to receive training through Quality Healthcare Options Inc.
Nichol, who works at the Mequon campus of Milwaukee Area Technical College, doesn’t agree with company owner Sally Sprenger backing state Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, the letter says.
Nicol signed the petition to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2011, and that signature appears to match the signature on the letter, which asks staff at the taxpayer-supported technical college to follow her lead, according to documents obtained by Wisconsin Reporter.
“For many years, my colleagues and I have recommended that our future nursing students obtain their CNA training or take refresher courses through Quality Healthcare Options,” said the Oct. 10 letter to the Wauwatosa-based business. “I will no longer recommend your company to our students, and I am in the process of notifying our entire faculty as well as our program leadership of the same.”
As legal expert Rick Esenberg sees it, the apparent tactics of intimidation could be considered a violation of Sprenger’s rights under the First Amendment.
“(Sprenger) cannot be discriminated against based upon her decision to express her political viewpoints,” said Esenberg, president and general counsel for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. “You can’t announce that you’re only going to award contracts to Democrats or you’re only going to award contracts to Republicans.”
Sprenger, who promoted Vukmir by allowing campaign signs at Quality Healthcare Options, has tried to file a complaint with the college since she got the letter. But she hasn’t gotten an official response.
Last week, Sprenger asked for a meeting with the MATC board of directors to review the threats.
Kathleen Hohl, communications director for MATC, told Wisconsin Reporter on Thursday the college is looking into the letter and is working directly with the writer to provide more information to Sprenger. But Hohl said the school hasn’t launched a formal investigation.
Sprenger first made MATC aware of the situation Oct. 15, the day the letter arrived at her office. Sprenger emailed a copy of the document to Dr. Wilma Bonaparte, vice president of the Mequon campus, and asked for a return phone call to discuss the matter. Sprenger also offered to meet in person.
“I look forward to continuing our good business relationship in spite of any individual political differences or opinions, as it is truly irrelevant to our mutual business,” Sprenger said in the email.
DISCRIMINATION: Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty President Rick Esenberg says a threatening a business owner because of political signs is a violation of the First Amendment.
A day later, Bonaparte replied that Sprenger’s concerns were forwarded to the college’s human resources department for fact-finding purposes because the letter did not reference Nicol’s position at MATC.
Esenberg called Bonaparte’s response a red herring.
“If (the writer) organized a boycott — either she did it on her own or did it in concert with her fellow faculty members at MATC — she’s acting as an agent of the state, she’s acting as an agent of MATC and she’s engaging in viewpoint discrimination in administering a government program,” Esenberg told Wisconsin Reporter.
Sprenger contends the writer referred to her affiliation with MATC by using the address for the Mequon campus on the letter’s envelope.
“Does (the writer) work elsewhere?” Sprenger asked Bonaparte in an Oct. 21 email. “Then what students does she ‘advise pre-admission’ to her nursing program? What colleagues and faculty of what school would she be notifying in her statement ‘our entire faculty as well as the leadership of the same?’”
On her LinkedIn page, Nicol, who did not return calls from Wisconsin Reporter seeking comment, lists MATC as her only employer.
Nicol has worked at MATC since January 2003 and was a member of the American Federation of Teachers Local 212 MATC until at least 2012, according to IRS tax documents. Nicol’s name does not appear on Local 212’s tax forms for 2012-13, a year after Walker signed Act 10, his signature collective bargaining reforms that eliminated forced unionization of most public-sector employees.
Local 212 does not disclose the identity of its members, said Kevin Mulvenna, executive vice president of the union’s executive board.
In the letter, the writer tells Quality Healthcare Options she would no longer recommend students to receive training through the company 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.
It says she also had concerns with Vukmir’s “disturbing relationship” with the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization many consider as Public Enemy No. 1 to liberals and unions.
Vukmir, who easily won her re-election bid Tuesday, voted for Act 10, the driving force behind the 2011 and 2012 recall elections.
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.