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Unmarried Fargo couple alleges discrimination in adoption suit against Catholic Charities

James and Tahnee Young. Special to Forum News Service

FARGO — A Fargo couple is suing Catholic Charities of North Dakota for more than $6.5 million, claiming the agency discriminated against them for not being married when they applied to adopt a child.

According to a civil complaint filed in Cass County District Court:

James and Tahnee Young were married in July, but they were engaged and living together earlier in the year when they decided they wanted to adopt a child, and not just any child but a teenager who had been "overlooked by the system."

In March, the couple began working with a social worker to adopt a 15-year-old who had been in the foster care system for eight years.

In early May, they were informed by the social worker that they would not be able to work with a Catholic Charities worker on their adoption until they were married.

Then, on May 18, the couple received a letter from the social worker informing them "the team members for the child you are interested in have chosen to pursue other permanency options at this time and will not be moving forward with you as an adoptive option."

The suit states the couple was married on July 7 in a ceremony that lacked one person, the child they wanted to adopt.

"The plaintiffs were both happy and sad on the day they were married," the lawsuit states.

In an interview with WDAY-TV, James Young said the letter informing them they had been dropped from consideration followed a conversation he had with an adoption official, during which he said he stated it seemed they were being discriminated against.

"Then the social worker had said, well, it's because we're living in sin because me and my wife, well, fiancee at the time, were living together, and by the church's teachings you can't be living together at the time," Young told WDAY.

"It just broke my wife's heart and my heart," he added.

The suit lists three causes of action: marital discrimination, failure to separate church beliefs from the adoption process and retaliation-emotional abuse.

In an answer filed with the court, Catholic Charities denies the bulk of allegations made in the complaint and the agency stated that during pre-adoption training the plaintiffs openly and rudely challenged trainers to the point "they were considered inappropriate to adopt any child."

The agency's answer also describes the plaintiffs' claims as "frivolous" and asks for reasonable attorney's fees and other costs.

Dianne Nechiporenko, executive director of Catholic Charities of North Dakota, declined to comment at length regarding the suit, other than to say the agency, as stated in its answer filed with the court, maintains the lawsuit is without merit.