Attorneys for a group of former Maine health care workers who sued the state over its vaccine requirements last summer are asking a panel of judges in Boston to revive their case.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Jon Levy dismissed the group’s lawsuit, which argued they have a religious right to refuse the vaccine over their belief that fetal stem cells from abortions were used to develop it. They also argued that the state mandate was discriminatory by allowing for medical exemptions, but not religious ones.

Levy ultimately disagreed.

“Exempting individuals whose health will be threatened if they receive a COVID-19 vaccine is an essential, constituent part of a reasoned public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It does not express or suggest a discriminatory bias against religion,” Levy wrote in his order on Aug. 18.

Attorneys have a month to file a brief to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, outlining their reasons for an appeal.

The plaintiffs worked for MaineHealth, Genesis Healthcare, Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center and MaineGeneral Health. All are named as defendants in the complaint, along with Gov. Janet Mills, Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah and Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.


Nine plaintiffs originally sued in August 2021, all anonymously.

The Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and Sun Journal filed a motion last November challenging the group’s right to anonymity. The newspapers argued that the plaintiffs’ “alleged fear of harm no longer outweighs the public’s interest in open legal proceedings.”

Both Levy and the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, ordering the group to file a new complaint that included their names in July.

Plaintiffs named in the dismissal document are Alicia Lowe, formerly an employee of MaineHealth; Debra Chalmers and Garth Berenyi, formerly of Genesis Health; Jennifer Barbalias, Natalie Salavarria and Adam Jones, formerly of Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center; and Nicole Giroux, formerly of MaineGeneral Health.

They are represented by Maine attorney Steve Whiting, and lawyers from Liberty Counsel, a conservative, religious law firm based in Florida that has participated in several lawsuits against Maine and other states over COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions. They’ve also opposed safe and legal access to abortions and same-sex marriage, leading the Southern Poverty Law Center to identify the firm as a hate group.

Federal judges at every level – the U.S. District Courtthe 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston and the U.S. Supreme Court – refused to block Maine’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate from taking effect while the courts considered the merits of the lawsuit.

The mandate took effect in October, and major health care providers reported that most workers decided to get their shots.

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