LOS ANGELES - The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California today filed a lawsuit against an Orange County-based foster family and adoption agency for discriminating against a lesbian couple who sought to become certified as a foster family, with the goal of adopting children in foster care.

Olive Crest is licensed and regulated by the state, receives federal, state and county funds, and has contracts with four California counties, to recruit, train and certify foster and adoptive families, and to place foster children with these families. 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.

"California law and regulations clearly state that foster care and adoption agencies must treat married, unmarried and same-sex couples equally," said Martha Matthews, Bohnett Attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. "Olive Crest wants to give preference to what it calls 'traditional, nuclear' families. But since Olive Crest contracts with the counties, accepts taxpayer funds, and is part of the state's and the counties' system of care for foster children, it cannot discriminate."

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

Then, in September of 2002 they were told that their adoption process had been suspended and were informed of Olive Crest's new Foster Family Recruitment Policy. The new policy stated that Olive Crest "prefers to place children with nuclear families," and that "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 Olive Crest planned to stall our certification process," said Shannon Rose. "The ones who suffer the most, though, are the children who are waiting for a place to call home."

In addition to representing Shannon and Jane, the ACLU is also supporting a bill introduced in January by state Assemblymember Judy Chu, the Foster Care Nondiscrimination Act (AB 458), which 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 lawsuit seeks injunctive relief and damages to compensate plaintiffs for trauma.

Olive Crest is a non-profit corporation organized under the laws of the State of California. Its principal place of business is in the city of Santa Ana, in Orange County, California, and it also has offices and other facilities in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Riverside counties. Approximately 96 people are employed by Olive Crest and the agency provides services to approximately 3,500 children and families annually.

The American Civil Liberties Union is the nation's foremost advocate of individual rights and equal justice. Since 1920, the mission of the ACLU has been to preserve the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

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