Fulton v. City of Philadelphia

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Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Third Circuit in a lawsuit over the application of nondiscrimination laws to faith-based providers of child welfare services. Our brief, filed on behalf of organizations serving LGBTQ youth, highlights the harm to LGBTQ youth of allowing child placing agencies to turn away same-sex couples.

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In March of 2018, the City of Philadelphia ("the City") learned that Catholic Social Services (“CSS”), a faith-based child placing agency contracted with the City of Philadelphia, would not certify same-sex couples as foster parents because of their religious beliefs, in violation of both CSS’s contract to provide foster care services and the City’s Fair Practice Ordinance. 

The City sent CSS a letter indicating that they would no longer make referrals to religious organizations that discriminated against LGBTQ foster parents. CSS did not agree to comply and the City stopped intake of new placements of children into CSS’s care.

CSS sued the City, together with Sharonell Fulton and other foster parents working with CSS, requesting that the court order the City to reopen intake to CSS. On July 13, 2018, a federal district court denied CSS's motion, rejecting the argument that faith-based child welfare agencies have a right to discriminate. CSS appealed this ruling to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

Allowing CSS to discriminate against LGBTQ people would send a government-endorsed stigmatic message to LGBTQ youth that they are not worthy to be parents or have a right to equal treatment in the provision of government services. Requiring nondiscrimination in foster care system is consistent with and, in fact, mandated by the City's legal obligation to ensure the wellbeing of LGBTQ youth in the child welfare system.