Sexual Harassment Plaintiff May Not Proceed Anonymously, Court Rules

In Doe v. Bloomberg, LP, No. 451470/2020, 2020 WL 7495654, 2020 N.Y. Slip Op. 34235(U) (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Dec. 21, 2020), a sexual harassment case, the court granted defendants’ motion to compel plaintiff to amend the caption of the action to reflect her name.

The court summarized the guiding principles relating to this issue:

Pursuant to 22 NYCRR § 216.1(a):

a court shall not enter an order in any action or proceeding sealing the court records, whether in whole or in part, except upon a written finding of good cause, which shall specify the grounds thereof. In determining whether good cause has been shown, the court shall consider the interests of the public as well as of the parties.

In determining whether a plaintiff has good cause to proceed anonymously, the burden of proof is lesser than that required for sealing the record. …  Nonetheless, the court must balance the movant’s privacy interest against the presumption of open trials and against any potential prejudice to the defendant. … Moreover, the court should … exercise its discretion to limit the public nature of judicial proceedings sparingly and then, only when unusual circumstances necessitate it. … [C]laims of public humiliation and embarrassment … are not sufficient grounds for allowing a plaintiff … to proceed anonymously …, even if the matter is of no public interest[.] [Citations and internal quotation marks omitted.]

Next, it outlined ten factors that guide its discretion:

  1. Whether the justification asserted . . . is merely to avoid the annoyance and criticism that may attend any litigation or is to preserve privacy in a matter of a sensitive and highly personal nature
  2. whether the party seeking anonymity has an illegitimate ulterior motive
  3. the extent to which the identity of the litigant has been kept confidential
  4. whether identification poses a risk of mental or physical harm, harassment, ridicule, or personal embarrassment
  5. whether the case involves information of the utmost intimacy
  6. whether the action is against a governmental or private entity
  7. the magnitude of the public interest in maintaining confidentiality or knowing the party’s identity
  8. whether revealing the identity of the party will dissuade the party from bringing the lawsuit
  9. whether the opposition to anonymity has an illegitimate basis
  10. whether the other side will be prejudiced by use of the pseudonym

For example, with respect to factor five, the court observed that while “[g]enerally, where allegations relate to sexually transmitted diseases or sexual assault, the plaintiff’s privacy rights are held to outweigh the public’s right to know … [h]ere, although plaintiff alleges sexual harassment, it is in the context of her workplace” and “[n]o sexual battery is alleged, nor is there a claim that plaintiff’s action would reveal a history of sexually transmitted disease, sexual abuse or assault or the use of drugs to treat such conditions” and, therefore, this factor weighed against plaintiff.

The court concluded that, based on “weighing of all of these factors, plaintiff fails to demonstrate that her need for anonymity outweighs the presumption of open proceedings.”

The court was careful to note, however, that this decision does not preclude plaintiff from seeking to redact particular items of evidence.

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