How an Anonymous Letter Almost Derailed the Career of an Accomplished CEO

Nancy Schlichting • Detroit

NancySchlichtingIn the workplace, most people agree that employees should be judged solely on their qualifications and ability to perform their job. So imagine the horror Nancy Schlichting must have felt, then a chief operating officer at Riverside Hospital, when an anonymous letter was sent to 23 members of the hospital board and the administrative staff outing her as gay.

The year was 1993, and Nancy had told very few people about her sexual orientation.

“My CEO called and said, ‘Nancy I got this letter. Is it true?’ I told him it was. I have never lied about who I am,” said Schlichting.

Thankfully, Nancy did not lose her job and would later be promoted to president and CEO at Riverside—but for Nancy, the fact that one coworker had tried to intimidate her and hurt her career because of her sexual orientation was a chilling reminder of the abuse and harassment that LGBT people continue to face in the workplace every single day.

Nancy considers herself lucky because her employer never thought to fire her because she is gay. But because Michigan law does not protect LGBT people from employment discrimination, far too many Michiganders are not as lucky.

Soon after this controversy, Nancy moved to Detroit and was offered a job at Henry Ford Health System, one of the largest health providers in southern Michigan.

Now CEO, Nancy has had a much warmer experience at Henry Ford and has since married her partner Pam, who brought two teenage children, now grown, to their happy family.

“The people at Henry Ford have been so fabulous,” Nancy explained. “It’s unfortunate the state government isn’t more enlightened.”

In the state of Michigan, LGBT people can still be denied employment, housing or service at a public institution just because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. But this year during the lame-duck session, our lawmakers can change all of that by updating the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

Since taking on her new role at Henry Ford Health System,Nancy has received numerous awards and accolades for her work. She was named seven times as one of the “100 Most Influential Leaders in Healthcare and twice as one of the “Top 25 Women in Healthcare“ by Modern Healthcare magazine, one of the “Women to Know in Health Care” by Becker’s Hospital Review, and Crain’s Detroit business named her one of 16 “Women to Watch,” among others.  In 2012 Crains Detroit Business awarded her Newsmaker of the Year.

Imagine the talent that would have been lost to the health and business community had Nancy’s career been derailed by that anonymous letter 21 years ago. In a time when Michigan is on the road to economic recovery, our state—and the businesses who call it home—can’t afford to lose top talent.

It’s time for Michigan’s laws to reflect Michigan’s values and ensure that our state remains on the competitive edge.