Because Title IX cases may involve allegations of sexual harassment or sexual assault, Title IX plaintiffs often want to maintain anonymity. Courts commonly allow Title IX plaintiffs, both alleged victims and those who have been accused of sexual misconduct, to proceed under a pseudonym. Recently, however, some courts have denied male plaintiff’s requests to do so.
In one recent case in Colorado, the plaintiff asked to be allowed to file a complaint under a pseudonym in February. The court originally granted that motion, finding the plaintiff had alleged a significant privacy interest. The court noted that the defendants could still object to the use of a pseudonym or the judge could revisit the issue later in the case.
The defendants moved to require the plaintiff to proceed under his true name, arguing the case did not involve highly personal and sensitive matters and that the interests of the defendants and the public interest’s weighed against allowing him to proceed with a pseudonym.
The court noted that the Tenth Circuit considers “the real danger of physical harm” and whether the plaintiff would incur the injury litigated against as a result of the disclosure of his identity. When it granted the plaintiff’s motion, the court had found he would incur the injuries being litigated against as a result of the disclosure. The court further noted that electronic filing allows the general public to easily access public pleadings. Highly sensitive personal information that would result in social stigma has been held to be an appropriate basis for use of a pseudonym in the Tenth Circuit.
The court also pointed out the public’s “robust interest” in judicial proceedings open and transparent judicial proceedings.
The defendants argued that, because the university accepted federal funds, the suit involved public funds and was therefore of particular public importance. The court rejected that argument, noting the case was not about how the defendants spent the federal funds. The significance of federal funding was only that it made the university subject to Title IX.
The defendants further argued the public had “a heightened interest in the plaintiff’s identity” because the case was based on a constitutional challenge. The court noted this case involved an allegation the defendants had violated the plaintiff’s personal constitutional rights, rather than a constitutional attack on enacted legislation as in the case cited by the defendants.
The court noted there is a strong public interest in access to judicial proceedings and how schools address allegations of sexual misconduct. The Tenth Circuit has held that it is appropriate for a court to weigh the public interest to determine if some type of anonymity should be afforded.
The court pointed out the plaintiff had identified the students who had filed Title IX complaints against them by initials and not pseudonyms.
The court found the requiring the plaintiff to proceed using his initials instead of his full name or a pseudonym sufficiently protected his concerns, as well as the defendants’ concerns that the investigation could appear to have involved multiple individuals. The court acknowledged that the case was in the early stages and stated the defendants could file another motion, if appropriate.
The court appeared to consider the fact that the plaintiff used initials rather than pseudonyms for the individuals he referenced in his pleadings. Future plaintiffs may consider using pseudonyms for others if they want to maintain full anonymity.
If you have been accused of sexual harassment, misconduct or assault by your school, a skilled Washington Title IX defense attorney can help you protect your rights and reputation. Call the offices of Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 to schedule a consultation.