A female partner at the law firm of Proskauer Rose, LLP, filed a $50 million gender discrimination claim against the firm in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The Plaintiff was granted leave to litigate the case anonymously. While the plaintiff’s identity is readily deducible from the substance of the allegations in the Complaint, the plaintiff cited concerns that if her identity is disclosed, it will result in a chilling effect for her to finding another job. The District Court judge agreed with that assessment and permitted her to litigate anonymously. See Jane Doe v. Proskauer Rose, LLP Complaint.
In determining whether a plaintiff may litigate a case anonymously, the Sixth Circuit has traditionally held that the following factors should be considered:
1. Whether the plaintiffs seeking anonymity are suing to challenge governmental activity;
2. Whether prosecution of the suit will compel the plaintiffs to disclose information of the utmost intimacy;
3. Whether the litigation compels plaintiffs to disclose an intention to violate the law, thereby risking criminal prosecution; and
4. Whether the plaintiffs are children. See Citizens for a Strong Ohio v. Marsh, 123 Fed.Appx. 630, 636 (6th Cir.2005).
The proper way to do so is to anonymously file a protective order, seeking permission to proceed under a pseudonym.
Should employment plaintiffs be permitted to litigate anonymously, effectively circumventing the public nature of the litigation process, it may open the door for more lawsuits against employers. Moreover, employers could be at a disadvantage where employees are permitted to levy accusations against them, when a protective order prohibits them from responding on the merit; thus complicating an already delicate situation where an employee still works for the employer but has a pending lawsuit.
This case promises to be an interesting one to watch in the evolving standard on anonymous lawsuits.