LOS ANGELES - The American Civil Liberties Union announced today that it would no longer pursue legal action against an Orange County-based adoption agency after the agency signed a binding agreement with the state that it would no longer discriminate against applicants based on sexual orientation.
"There are 500,000 children in foster care in the U.S., many in temporary emergency facilities awaiting foster families or adoption. By denying us placement solely because we are lesbians, Olive Crest was ignoring the needs of the children the state had placed in their care," said Shannon Rose, M.D., a pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics who brought the lawsuit along with her partner Jane Brooks, a lawyer specializing in family law. "We are pleased that our lawsuit has helped to force Olive Crest to abandon its discriminatory policy."
The ACLU brought a discrimination lawsuit against Olive Crest Foster Family and Adoption Agency on May 1, 2003 on behalf of Rose and Brooks. They applied to Olive Crest to become foster parents in July 2002. Shortly thereafter they were told by a social worker at the agency that they were 'pre-certified' for placement. But in September 2002, they were notified by the agency that their application had been suspended and were informed of a new recruitment policy that gave preferential treatment to "nuclear families." Rose and Brooks were further informed by their social worker - who quit her job over Olive Crest's handling of their case - that this policy was implemented to discriminate against lesbian and gay applicants.
"Decisions about adoption and foster care placement should be based on what's best for the children, not on discriminatory policies that bar placements with lesbian and gay people," said Christine Sun, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. "Decades of research have found that gay people are just as capable of being good parents as straight people and their children are just as well adjusted."
The discriminatory treatment of Rose and Brooks by Olive Crest motivated the state to pursue its own legal action against the agency. In April 2005, Olive Crest entered into a settlement agreement with the state that it would strike its policy of favoring "nuclear families" and no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation. The agreement puts the agency on probation for two years. If Olive Crest is found to have violated the agreement during the probationary period, the agency's license will be automatically revoked.
"Now that Olive Crest appears to have ended its discriminatory practices, there's no need to continue this lawsuit. If, however, we find they are not living up to their end of the bargain, you can bet we'll be notifying the state," added Sun.
Attorneys Jilana Miller, Connie Tcheng and Jessie Sisgold from the San Diego office of the Heller Ehrman White and McAuliffe assisted the ACLU with the case.