ACLU Files Discrimination Lawsuit on Behalf of Lesbian Couple Treated Unfairly by CA Adoption Agency

May 1, 2003 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES–The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California together with the ACLU of San Diego today filed a lawsuit against an Orange County adoption agency for discriminating against a lesbian couple who sought to adopt children currently under foster care.

“California law and regulations clearly state that foster care and adoption agencies must treat married, unmarried and same-sex couples equally,” said Martha Matthews, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California.

“The agency has said it wants to give preference to what it calls ‘traditional, nuclear’ families. But since the agency contracts with the counties, accept taxpayer funds, and is part of the state’s and the counties’ systems of care for foster children, it cannot discriminate,” she explained.

According to the ACLU’s legal complaint, the Olive Crest agency is licensed and regulated by the state and has contracts with four California counties to recruit, train and certify foster and adoptive families and to place foster children with these families.

The ACLU argued in legal papers that because Olive Crest is performing this function on behalf of state and county governments, it is bound by both the constitutional requirement to give all prospective adoptive parents equal treatment under the law. Olive Crest is also bound by California anti-discrimination laws that apply to businesses and nonprofits.

The case arose in July of 2002, when Shannon Rose, a medical doctor, and her partner, law student Jane Brooks, applied to become certified as foster/adoptive parents with the goal of adopting foster children through Olive Crest. The women received repeated assurances that they would be treated fairly by Olive Crest. They filled out numerous forms, got fingerprinted and went through the extensive home study process required for certification. Their Olive Crest social worker told them that their home study was fine and that they had been “pre-certified” as foster/adoptive parents.

But in September of 2002 they were told that their adoption process had been suspended. Under Olive Crest’s new Foster Family Recruitment Policy, they were told, the agency “prefers to place children with nuclear families” and “other applicants will be considered on a case-by-case basis.”

The policy also stated that Olive Crest would refer applicants whose qualifications “do not agree with Olive Crest’s values, guiding principles or treatment philosophy” to other agencies. Shannon and Jane were told by their former social worker at Olive Crest — who quit her job over Olive Crest’s handling of their case – that this policy was specifically intended to allow for discrimination against gay and lesbian couples.

“We were devastated when we heard that Olive Crest planned to stall our certification process,” said Dr. Rose. “The ones who suffer the most, though, are the children who are waiting for a place to call home.”

In addition to filing the lawsuit, Shannon Rose and Jane Brooks v. Olive Crest Family Care and Adoption Agency et al., the ACLU is also supporting a bill, the Foster Care Nondiscrimination Act (AB 458), introduced in January by state Assemblymember Judy Chu. The legislation would explicitly prohibit discrimination against foster children and foster and adoptive parents on the basis of sexual orientation as well as other characteristics such as race, sex, religion and national origin.

Attorneys from the San Diego office of the law firm of Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe are working with the ACLU in connection with the case and are representing the couple pro bono.

The ACLU lawsuit seeks a court order declaring that the Olive Crest policy violates the U.S. Constitution as well as state laws and ordering the agency to revise their policies accordingly.

The ACLU’s complaint is available online at: /node/35020

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