PORTLAND, Maine — The identities of seven health care workers who sued Democratic Maine Gov. Janet Mills over the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, arguing it was their religious right to refuse the shots, were revealed Monday.
Alicia Lowe, Debra Chalmers, Jennifer Barbalia, Natalie Salavarria, Nicole Giroux, Garth Berenyi, and Adam Jones had remained anonymous. But on Thursday, a federal appeals court in Boston rejected a motion by the workers and gave them until Friday to file an amended complaint with their names.
Two health care workers who were originally involved with the lawsuit dropped out because the private practice where they work is no longer covered by the mandate, NEWS CENTER Maine's partners at the Portland Press Herald reported.
According to the lawsuit, Barbalias, Jones, and Salavarria lost their jobs at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center for refusing to get the vaccine. The lawsuit said Lowe was fired from MaineHealth, and Chalmers and Berenyi were fired from Genesis Healthcare for the same reason.
The plaintiffs filed their complaint in federal court last August, before the state's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers at Maine care facilities went into effect on Oct. 20, 2021.
The lawsuit prompted several Maine newspapers, including the Portland Press Herald, to intervene in an effort to force the plaintiffs to be identified.
In the original complaint and in the amended complaint, the workers argued it was their religious right to refuse the vaccine over their belief that fetal stem cells from abortions are used to develop the vaccines.
Maine’s vaccine mandate does not allow for religious exemptions.
"[T]he plaintiffs have not shown that their fear of severe harm if their identifies are revealed is objectively reasonable," U.S. District Court Judge Jon D. Levy ruled May 31, adding that their privacy interests were not shown "to outweigh the public interest associated with the presumption of openness that applies to civil proceedings."
The plaintiffs are represented by the Florida-based conservative and religious law firm Liberty Counsel.
In a statement Tuesday, Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Maine is required to abide by federal law and provide protections to employees who have sincerely held religious objections to the COVID shots and these health care workers are no exception.
"No American should be faced with this unconscionable choice, especially the health care heroes who have served admirably for the entire duration of COVID- 19. These health care workers have already suffered irreparable harm by being forced to choose between their jobs and their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
In addition to Mills, the following people and health care agencies were listed as defendants in the amended complaint:
- Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew
- Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah
- Genesis Healthcare, LLC
- Genesis Healthcare of Maine, LLC
- Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center
- MaineGeneral Health