Pro Bono Effort Challenges Government’s Discriminatory Policy Against Prospective LGBTQ Foster Parents for Refugee Children

October.13.2021

An Orrick pro bono team, in collaboration with Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Lambda Legal, filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, along with several HHS officials and programs, challenging discriminatory practices against LGBTQ foster parent applicants to care for unaccompanied refugee children.

The case alleges the government is sanctioning discrimination against LGBTQ foster parent applicants by organizations receiving taxpayer funds to care for these refugee children.

The case, Easter v. HHS, was filed on behalf of Kelly Easter, from East Nashville, Tenn., who has been denied the opportunity to become a foster parent for a child in a federal foster care program for immigrant children. Initially, Easter was directed to the participating program in her area: Bethany Christian Services, a sub-grantee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which receives federal funds to provide foster care services. But Easter was informed that she could not be a foster parent because she is a lesbian.

Despite reporting the discriminatory policy to HHS officials, Easter has continued to be denied access to the foster care opportunities near her home. The federal government has for years sanctioned discrimination by ignoring evidence that USCCB discriminates and requires its sub-grantees to discriminate against LGBTQ foster parent applicants, reducing the number of available homes for children in need and sending a damaging message to LGBTQ adults and children.

“Plaintiff Kelly Easter is one of the many people who are subjected to the sting of discrimination and deprived of the opportunity to participate in a federal program for refugee children on the same terms as other prospective foster parents,” the lawsuit states.

The Orrick team is led by partners Andrew Silverman, Seth Harrington and Danny Rubens.