Health care workers who sued state over vaccine mandate reveal names in court

Seven of the nine health care workers who sued Gov. Janet Mills and others over the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers revealed their names in federal court Monday.

The health care workers initially filed their lawsuit anonymously, citing fears for their safety, but the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston ruled last week that they had to disclose their names in an amended complaint.

The amended complaint lists health care workers as Alicia Lowe, Debra Chalmers, Jennifer Barbalias, Natalie Salavarria, Nicole Giroux, Garth Berenyi and Adam Jones.

Two health care workers originally involved in the lawsuit left because the private practice where they work is no longer covered by the vaccine mandate, according to a lawyer for Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based religiously conservative law firm that has participated in several lawsuit against Maine and other states over COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions.

“The individual plaintiffs decided that the issues at hand are too important to be left unresolved. They have decided to take a very personal risk and identify themselves in order to pursue their claims against the state of Maine and private employers in order to bring these issues to light and justice,” said Horatio Mihet, chief legal counsel for Liberty. .counselor.

The birthplaces of the plaintiffs are not included in the court files. Efforts to reach the plaintiffs were unsuccessful Tuesday morning. Mihet said plaintiffs prefer Liberty Counsel to speak on their behalf.

The plaintiffs filed their complaint in federal court last August, before the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers in Maine’s designated care facilities took effect on Oct. 20, 2021. They argued that their right religious groups to refuse the vaccine because of their belief that fetal stem cells from abortions are used to develop vaccines.

Maine’s mandate does not allow for religious exemptions.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit were Gov. Janet Mills, Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, and Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as several health care agencies.

All seven plaintiffs sought exemptions from the mandate because getting the vaccine would violate the heirs’ religious beliefs, but were denied because there were no exemptions, according to the suit.

The lawsuit says Lowe was fired from her position at MaineHealth “for refusing to accept a vaccine that violates her sincerely held religious beliefs.” Chalmers and Berenyi lost their jobs at Genesis Healthcare as did Giroux from MaineGeneral Health. Barbalias, Jones and Salavarria were fired from North Light Eastern Maine Medical Center for refusing to receive the vaccine, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit does not describe the positions they held at the health care organizations.

The lawsuit prompted several Maine newspapers to intervene in an effort to compel the plaintiffs to identify themselves. The Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and Sun Journal filed a motion in November 2021 challenging the group’s right to file the complaint anonymously. The papers argued that the plaintiffs’ “alleged fear of harm no longer outweighs the public interest in open legal proceedings,” according to court documents.

US District Court Judge Jon D. Levy ruled on May 31 that the plaintiffs could not remain anonymous and ordered them to file an amended complaint with their names. Levy said in his ruling that “plaintiffs’ religious beliefs and their resulting medical decisions not to vaccinate against COVID-19, whether considered separately or together, do not present privacy interests substantial enough to support pseudonymous proceedings. In the final analysis, however, there is an almost total lack of evidence that their expressed fears are objectively reasonable.”

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