Students involved in a Washington Title IX case often wish to remain anonymous. Title IX lawsuits are often brought under pseudonyms such as “John Doe” or “Jane Doe.” In some cases, however, a court may not allow a plaintiff to proceed with the lawsuit anonymously.
A Michigan federal court has reportedly dismissed a student’s Title IX case against his university because it was filed anonymously. According to the court, the university suspended the plaintiff from its football team after he was accused of sexual assault by another student. He sued the university, alleging it violated his Title IX rights.
The plaintiff filed the suit as “John Doe” and sought the court’s permission to proceed anonymously.
In its order denying that request, the court noted federal complaints generally must state all of the parties’ names. There is a presumption that judicial proceedings are open and a plaintiff may generally only proceed with the lawsuit anonymously if they can show that their own privacy interests substantially outweigh that presumption. The court identified a number of factors courts may consider in making that determination, including whether the plaintiff is challenging governmental activity, whether the lawsuit would require disclosure of intimate information, whether the lawsuit would require disclosure of an intention to break the law, and whether the plaintiff is a child. Courts have also considered whether the plaintiff’s use of a pseudonym would prejudice the defendants, whether the plaintiff would be harmed if identified, and the public interest in open access to judicial proceedings without denying access to the justice system.
The court found the plaintiff had not shown his privacy interests substantially outweighed the open judicial proceedings presumption. The court acknowledged the plaintiff was suing a governmental entity, but pointed out a single factor is not determinative. The court also noted that courts regularly handle cases involving sexual harassment without the use of pseudonyms. Additionally, the basis of the plaintiff’s lawsuit was whether the university’s actions had violated Title IX, not whether he actually committed the sexual assault. The court found the factors regarding whether the plaintiff would have to disclose an intention to break the law or whether the plaintiff was a child were not relevant.
The court further found any concerns the plaintiff may have regarding social stigma or reputational harm did not outweigh the public interest in open proceedings. The plaintiff argued he could be deterred from using the justice system if he were prohibited from proceeding anonymously, but the court found that factor related to litigants in general and not to a specific plaintiff. The court also cited many similar lawsuits filed by plaintiffs in their own names.
The court found the plaintiff had not met the burden of showing his interests substantially outweighed the public interest in open judicial proceedings. The court denied the plaintiff’s motion to proceed anonymously and ordered him to file an amended complaint in his own name. According to news reports, he did not do so and the case has been dismissed.
If you have been accused of sexual misconduct and are facing a Title IX investigation or discipline, a skilled Washington Title IX defense attorney can help you throughout the process. A strong advocate during the investigation and disciplinary process may help prevent the need for litigation. Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 to set up a consultation.