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New York Court Discusses an Employment Plaintiff’s Right to Proceed Anonymously

June 8, 2020

While typically, the identity of a plaintiff in a lawsuit is known by the defendant in some cases, the court will allow the plaintiff to proceed anonymously, to protect the plaintiff’s rights. For example, plaintiffs are often permitted to proceed anonymously in cases in which there are privacy concerns, but a plaintiff seeking to file a lawsuit anonymously faces a high burden. This was discussed in a recent hostile work environment case in which the court found that the plaintiff failed to establish that she should be permitted to proceed anonymously. If you work in New York and are the victim of a hostile work environment, it is prudent to speak with a seasoned New York hostile work environment attorney regarding your potential claims.

Facts of the Case

It is alleged that the plaintiff, who describes herself as a respected entrepreneur in New York and a participant in many non-profit activities, worked for the defendant, a successful investment banker from 2016 through 2018. During her employment, the plaintiff was subject to sexual advances from the defendant, and sexual assault, which created a hostile work environment. Thus, the plaintiff filed a complaint against the defendant, alleging hostile work environment, discrimination, wage violations, and retaliation, and asked the court that she be permitted to proceed anonymously. The defendant did not respond to the motion, but upon review, the court ultimately determined that the plaintiff’s anonymity was not warranted.

Factors Weighed in Determining if a Plaintiff Can Proceed Anonymously

Generally, pursuant to the federal rules of civil procedure, the caption of a lawsuit must name all of the parties, and the use of pseudonyms runs afoul of the public’s right to access to judicial proceedings. Thus, if a plaintiff seeks to proceed anonymously, the court must weigh several factors to determine whether the plaintiff’s privacy concerns outweigh the public policy considerations in favor of open proceedings.

Specifically, the court must assess whether the case involves matters of a personal nature that are highly sensitive, whether revealing the plaintiff’s identity presents a risk of harm or retaliation, and whether the plaintiff is especially vulnerable to harm given his or her age. The court must also determine whether the defendant is the government or a private party, whether the defendant will suffer prejudice if the plaintiff remains anonymous, and whether the public’s interest will be benefited by revealing the identity of the plaintiff. Lastly, the court must determine whether the plaintiff’s identity has been protected thus far and whether alternative methods of protecting the plaintiff’s identity exist.

In the subject case, the court ultimately found that the majority of the factors weighed against granting the plaintiff’s motion. Accordingly, the court denied the plaintiff’s request to proceed anonymously.

Speak With a Knowledgeable New York Attorney

If you are subject to a hostile work environment, it is advisable to consult a knowledgeable New York hostile work environment attorney regarding your potential claims. The skilled employment attorneys of Gerstman Schwartz LLP are dedicated to helping workers who were treated unjustly at work in the pursuit of damages, and we will advocate zealously on your behalf. You can call us at our Manhattan office at (212) 227-7070 or at our Garden City office at (516) 880-8170 or you can reach us via our form online to set up a confidential and free consultation.

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