Health workers suing state over vaccine mandate reveal names in court

Seven of the nine health care workers who are suing Gov. Janet Mills and other state officials over Maine’s mandate for a COVID-19 vaccine for health care workers have complied with a court order and disclosed their names in federal court.

The health workers who filed their lawsuit last August initially did so anonymously, citing concerns for their safety.

The Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and Sun Journal filed a motion in November 2021 challenging the group’s right to anonymity. The newspapers, which were represented by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, argued that the plaintiffs’ “alleged fear of harm no longer outweighs the public’s interest in open litigation,” according to court documents.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston ruled last week that the plaintiffs must reveal their names in an amended complaint for the case to proceed.

The amended complaint filed Monday lists the health care workers as Alicia Lowe, Debra Chalmers, Jennifer Barbalias, Natalie Salavaria, Nicole Giroux, Garth Bereni and Adam Jones.

Two health care workers who were originally involved in the lawsuit have dropped out because the private practice they work for is no longer covered by the vaccine mandate, according to a lawyer for Liberty Counsel, the conservative Florida-based law firm that represents health care workers. Liberty Counsel has been involved in several lawsuits against Maine and other states challenging religious-based COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions.

“The individual plaintiffs have decided that the issues at hand are too important to remain unsettled.” They have decided to take a very personal risk and legitimize themselves to pursue their claims against the State of Maine and private employers to bring these issues to light and to justice,” said Horatio Michet, Chief Legal Counsel of Liberty Counsel.

The plaintiffs’ hometowns were not listed in the court documents. Lowe and Bereni did not return messages from a reporter Tuesday. Contact information for the other five plaintiffs could not be located. Mihet said the plaintiffs prefer Liberty Counsel to speak on their behalf.

When the plaintiffs filed their complaint in federal court last summer, the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers at certain medical facilities in Maine had not yet gone into effect. He did so on October 20, 2021. Health workers claimed it was their religious right to refuse the vaccine because of their belief that fetal stem cells from abortions were used to develop the vaccines.

Maine’s mandate does not allow religious exemptions.

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

All seven plaintiffs sought an exemption from the mandate because getting the vaccine would violate their religious beliefs, but were denied because there are no exemptions, the lawsuit alleges.

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

The claim does not describe the positions they held in the health organizations.

U.S. District Court Judge John D. Levy ruled May 31 that the plaintiffs cannot remain anonymous and ordered them to file an amended complaint with their names. Levy said in his decision that “plaintiffs’ religious beliefs and resulting medical decisions not to be vaccinated against COVID-19, whether considered individually or together, do not constitute privacy interests substantial enough to support pseudonymous proceedings . Ultimately, however, there is an almost complete lack of evidence that the fears they express are objectively reasonable.

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