ROCKFORD, Illinois (LifeSiteNews) — Winnebago County must pay $370,000 in attorney fees to the team representing Catholic pediatric nurse Sandra Rojas, who refused to refer patients for contraceptives or abortions.
The Illinois county fired her in 2015. The 17th Judicial Circuit Court in Illinois ruled in November that the county violated the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act when it fired her. She had worked for the county for 18 years.
Now the county must pay $374,104.60 to Rojas’ legal team from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and its allied attorneys as part of a February 16 decision from Judge Eugene Doherty. The court previously awarded Rojas $2,500 in damages.
ADF applauded the decision. “Medical professionals should never be forced to engage in or promote activities that violate their beliefs or convictions,” senior counsel Kevin Theriot said in a statement. “Sandra served as a nurse according to her conscience and religion — a right for medical providers that is protected under Illinois and federal law.”
The fee shows there is a financial punishment for the violation of someone’s conscience rights, Theriot said. “The court’s fee award sends a clear message that health care workers are free to practice medicine in a manner consistent with their conscience and religious beliefs, and there will be a steep penalty if the government fails to respect that legally protected freedom.”
ADF allied attorney Noel Sterett echoed the same sentiments. “Health care professionals should not be required to violate their conscience to keep their jobs,” he said. “We hope the outcome of this case will encourage other public and private health care employers to respect their employees’ rights of conscience.”
The issue arose when the county’s new health director merged health clinics, meaning that a nurse could have pediatric clients, refugee clients and also women’s health patients.
Dr. Sandra Martell, the county’s public health director, said she did not know she violated Rojas’ rights when she offered to move her to another job, according to the November 2021 decision. Martell offered Rojas two jobs that would not work — one as a part-time food inspector that would not utilize her nurse training.
The other job would not be legally possible, according to the court decision, because Rojas would be working at a nursing home under her son. It would violate an anti-nepotism law.
Rojas said while working at a nurse after the merger of clinics she would avoid any patient’s charts that wanted assistance with an abortion or birth control. The county clinic remained busy and Rojas said none of the other nurses complained about the arrangement and it cost no additional money.
Winnebago County attorney Lafakeria Vaughn did not respond to an email request for comment on Monday.