Salvation Army Must ID Booted Pregnant Women

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Salvation Army cannot obstruct a federal investigation by shielding the identities of pregnant women it kicked out of a transitional housing program, a federal magistrate ruled.
     The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development opened an investigation into the Salvation Army last year based on complaints that the group terminated women from their housing program once they became pregnant. Discrimination on the basis of familial status and gender is a violation of the Fair Housing Act.
     Though the Salvation Army gave HUD copies of its files on women who were terminated from the housing program, it redacted all personal identifying information, citing a privacy policy.
     The Salvation Army admitted that it terminated four pregnant women from its Turning Point Center for Women and Children, which it operates to help “break the cycle of chronic homelessness and joblessness.”
     It said pregnancy is “grounds for dismissal from the program as a matter of program policy.”
     HUD subpoenaed the full records in August 2012 and then filed suit when the Salvation Army shot it down.
     U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola ordered enforcement of the subpoena Wednesday, saying the Salvation Army’s privacy concerns are “misplaced.”
     Indeed, HUD has offered to treat the identities of the four women as confidential during the course of its investigation, according to the ruling.
     “I believe these conditions are adequate to address any legitimate privacy concerns, and I will order that they be followed once the Salvation Army complies with the subpoena,” Facciola wrote.
     The judge also blasted the group for claiming that its right to free association under the First Amendment justifies its refusal to disclose the women’s identities.
     “While the members of the Salvation Army have a First Amendment right to associate with each other to advance political, theological or social concerns, and its confidentiality policy was established to specifically protect the privacy of individuals already enrolled in its programs, as well as to encourage new members, it would be difficult for the Salvation Army to show that prospective female members would be deterred from joining because of the governmental action proposed in this case,” Facciola wrote. “The logic would have to be as follows: a potential participant would elect not to enroll in the Turning Point Center if she knew that 1) if she got pregnant she would be terminated from the program; 2) if she was terminated from the program, the government might investigate whether that termination violated the Fair Housing Act; and 3) if the government conducted that investigation, her personal identifying information would be revealed.
     “Such a speculative, fanciful, and logically attenuated chain of supposed consequences cannot defeat a governmental investigation into whether the rights of the expelled women were violated. Indeed, under that logic, the Salvation Army could avoid full investigation for violations of the civil rights laws because of an internal policy that prohibits the disclosure of the names of the very persons whose rights the Salvation Army may itself have violated.”
     Facciola also credited HUD’s argument that it needs the women’s identifying information to pursue “its investigation because those women may have information about the Salvation Army’s policies, or may know other individuals who were victims of these allegedly discriminatory housing practices.”

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