National Roundup

Suit: U.S. enabling LGBTQ discrimination in foster program

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The federal government is funding organizations that illegally discriminate against LGBTQ candidates to become foster care parents for unaccompanied refugee children, a lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges.

According to the 29-page complaint, Kelly Easter has been turned away twice from fostering a migrant child in the federal foster care program while living in Nashville, Tennessee.

The lawsuit alleges that Michigan-based Bethany Christian Services refused to permit Easter to be a foster parent late last year because she is a lesbian. Bethany is the only organization located near Easter that is participating in the federal program.

A few months after turning Easter away, Bethany’s leadership announced in March that it had changed its policy and would now be accepting applications from LGBTQ families, the lawsuit says.

But the agency told Easter she would have to drive to its office in Smyrna, Tennessee, a half-hour away, because its office located closer to her Nashville home is under contract with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which won’t certify same-sex couples as foster parents.

Catholic Bishops receives federal funds to provide foster care services and Bethany receives money from the Catholic Bishops at its Nashville site. Bethany’s Smyrna site is funded through a different source.

“It hurt to be turned away – twice – solely because of my identity,” Easter said in a statement. “I’ve been a Christian since I was a little girl and my personal relationship with God is the most important thing to me. I also know that LGBTQ people can have thriving families and that they are as important and deserving as any other.”

The lawsuit, claiming First and Fifth Amendment violations, names the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Administration for Children and Families and the Office of Refugee Resettlement as defendants. The heads of each agency were also named, including HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. The agencies did not immediately respond to email requests for comment on Wednesday.

“By preventing children under their care and custody from being placed in homes of LGBTQ people based on USCCB’s religious beliefs, the government ... disserves and demeans LGBTQ children for whom they are responsible, stigmatizing them as less deserving and less worthy of respect than other children,” the lawsuit argues.

In a statement, a Bethany spokesperson said that the organization is “committed to welcoming and serving all individuals and families” and that “no one will be rejected because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“We invite anyone who is interested in providing children with a safe, loving home to contact us and begin the licensing process today,” the organization added.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Washington D.C.

Judge bars United from putting unvaccinated workers on leave

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — A federal judge has extended a ban on United Airlines putting employees on unpaid leave for seeking a medical or religious exemption from the airline’s requirement to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman in Fort Worth, Texas, granted a restraining order Tuesday in favor of employees who are suing the airline over the mandate.

Lawyers for the employees and the airline agreed last month that United wouldn’t put the workers on unpaid leave, but the judge wrote that the agreement will expire before he can rule on the merits of the matter. That would leave “hundreds of workers” at risk of being put on indefinite unpaid leave or forced to get a vaccination that violates their religious beliefs or medical restrictions.

The restraining order expires Oct. 26.

The suing employees are seeking to turn the case into a class-action lawsuit. United says about 2,000 of its 67,000 U.S. employees asked for exemptions from vaccination.

A United spokeswoman said Wednesday that the company was working with vaccine-exempt employees on safety measures including testing, face masks and temporary job reassignments.

No unemployment checks for health workers who refuse vaccine

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — There will be no state unemployment benefits for health care workers who are fired for refusing to get employer-mandated vaccinations against COVID-19, state officials said Thursday.

Already, a small number of workers have quit rather than be fully vaccinated ahead of the deadline at month's end.

"Refusing to comply with an employer's policies, including a health or safety policy, typically disqualifies a person from being eligible to receive unemployment benefits," Jessica Picard, spokes­person for the Maine Department of Labor, said Thursday.

But each unemployment application will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, she said, leaving the door open to exceptions.

A federal judge declined Wednesday to halt the governor's mandate that most health care workers be fully vaccinated. The state said it will begin enforcing the rule on Oct. 29.

Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston already began curtailing admissions and closed one department because of a staffing shortage linked to the vaccine requirement.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills said the vaccine mandate alone isn't causing the workforce shortages. She noted that all businesses are facing shortages during the pandemic.

State agencies will work with individual hospitals and nursing homes "to address individual workforce issues," Mills said.

Mills announced the vaccine mandate on Aug. 12 for hospitals, nursing homes, dental practices and shelters. There's a medical exemption but there are no religious or philosophical exemptions.

In other pandemic news in Maine:

The number of new cases of COVID-19 in the state has nosed down over the past two weeks.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Maine did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 558.29 new cases per day on Sept. 28 to 526.80 new cases per day on Oct. 12. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Maine has risen over the past two weeks from 2.14 deaths per day on Sept. 28 to 2.57 deaths per day on Oct. 12.

The AP is using data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering to measure outbreak caseloads and deaths across the United States.

Maine health officials have reported more than 96,000 cases of the virus and 1,088 deaths since the start of the pandemic.