Employment Discrimination Plaintiff May Not Proceed Pseudonymously, Court Holds [A.B. v. Hofstra University]

In A.B. v. Hofstra University, 17-cv-5562, 2018 WL 1935986 (E.D.N.Y., April 24, 2018), an employment discrimination/sexual harassment case, the court considered, and rejected, plaintiff’s request to proceed pseudonymously.

The court provides us with an overview of the governing legal standard:

Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(a) provides that the “title of [a] complaint must name all the parties.” However, the Second Circuit has carved out a narrowly crafted exception to this rule which allows parties to maintain an action under a pseudonym under certain circumstances. See Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant, 537 F.3d 185, 189 (2d Cir. 2008).

To guide courts in determining whether a plaintiff may proceed under a pseudonym, the Second Circuit has provided a “non-exhaustive” list of factors to consider, including:

(1) [W]hether the litigation involves matters that are highly sensitive and [of a] personal nature; (2) whether identification poses a risk of retaliatory physical or mental harm to the … party [seeking to proceed anonymously] or even more critically, to innocent non-parties; (3) whether identification presents other harms and the likely severity of those harms, including whether the injury litigated against would be incurred as a result of the disclosure of the plaintiff’s identity; (4) whether the plaintiff is particularly vulnerable to the possible harms of disclosure, particularly in light of his age; (5) whether the suit is challenging the actions of the government or that of private parties; (6) whether the defendant is prejudiced by allowing the plaintiff to press his claims anonymously, whether the nature of that prejudice (if any) differs at any particular stage of the litigation, and whether any prejudice can be mitigated by the district court; (7) whether the plaintiff’s identity has thus far been kept confidential; (8) whether the public’s interest in the litigation is furthered by requiring the plaintiff to disclose his identity; (9) whether, because of the purely legal nature of the issues presented or otherwise, there is an atypically weak public interest in knowing the litigants’ identities; and (10) whether there are any alternative mechanisms for protecting the confidentiality of the plaintiff.

The court determined that two factors favored plaintiff, one was neutral, and seven weighed against plaintiff. Noting that these factors are merely a guide and that district courts are required to exercise discretion in weighing them, as well as the fact that plaintiff’s request in another civil action that shares certain facts, the court concluded that plaintiff must proceed under his true name.

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