United States District Court, D. New Jersey
OPINION & ORDER
L. WALDOR, United States Magistrate Judge
matter comes before the Court on Defendant Nabil Adam's
Motion to Compel Plaintiff to File an Amended Complaint Using
Her Legal Name. (ECF No. 23). Defendant Periklis
Papakonstantinou joins in the Motion. (ECF No. 26). The Court
declined to hear oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 78, and, for the reasons set forth below,
Defendants' Motions are DENIED.
Jane Doe brings this action under Title IX of the Education
Amendments Act of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et
seq. (“Title IX”) and the New Jersey Law
Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq.
(“NJLAD”) against Defendants Nabil Adam, Periklis
Papakonstantinou, and Rutgers University. Plaintiff has been
a student in the Rutgers Business School Ph.D. program since
the summer of 2015. (Compl. ¶ 8). Plaintiff alleges that
Dr. Nabil Adam, a Rutgers Business School Professor and
Plaintiff's dissertation advisor, sexually assaulted
Plaintiff in January 2016 and November 2017 and coerced
Plaintiff into a sexual relationship. (Id.
¶¶ 19, 31, 32-37, 57). According to Plaintiff,
Rutgers failed to appropriately investigate Plaintiff's
allegations, failed to take adequate corrective measures, and
perpetuated the hostile work environment created by Dr. Adam.
(Id. ¶¶ 71, 73-76, 95). Plaintiff further
alleges that Rutgers, Dr. Adam, and Rutgers Business School
Assistant Professor Papakonstantinou retaliated against
Plaintiff for coming forward with her allegations against Dr.
Adam. (Id. ¶¶ 67-72, 77-83).
the litigation, Plaintiff has proceeded pseudonymously as
Jane Doe. Adam now moves to compel Plaintiff to file an
amended complaint under her real name in accordance with
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10. (ECF No. 23).
Papakonstantinou joins in Adam's Motion. (ECF No. 26).
Rutgers has not opposed Plaintiff's use of a pseudonym.
Rule of Civil Procedure 10 requires plaintiffs to identify
their real names in the Complaint. “[A] plaintiff's
use of a pseudonym ‘runs afoul of the public's
common law right of access to judicial
proceedings.'” Doe v. Megless, 654 F.3d
404, 408 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting Does I Thru XXIII v.
Advanced Textile Corp., 214 F.3d 1058, 1067 (9th
Cir.2000)). Although the Federal Rules do not explicitly
sanction the use of pseudonyms, courts have allowed
plaintiffs to proceed pseudonymously when the plaintiff can
demonstrate (1) “a fear of severe harm” from the
public disclosure of her name and (2) “that the fear of
severe harm is reasonable.” Id. Crucially, a
plaintiff's fear that she may “suffer embarrassment
or economic harm is not enough.” Id. (quoting
Doe v. C.A.R.S. Protection Plus, Inc., 527 F.3d 358,
371 n. 2 (3d Cir.2008)).
Megless, the Third Circuit adopted the nine-factor
test for the use of pseudonyms that was first articulated in
Doe v. Provident Life and Acc. Ins. Co., 176 F.R.D.
464, 467 (E.D.Pa. 1997). The Megless court noted
that this “list of factors is not comprehensive”
and directed courts to consider the particular circumstances
of each case. Id. at 409-10.
factors that support a plaintiff's use of a pseudonym
are: (1) “The extent to which the identity of the
litigant has been kept confidential;” (2) “The
bases upon which disclosure is feared….and the
substantiality of these bases;” (3) “The
magnitude of the public interest in maintaining the
confidentiality of the litigant's identity;” (4)
“Whether, because of the purely legal nature of the
issues presented or otherwise, there is an atypically weak
public interest in knowing the litigants identities;”
(5) Whether the plaintiff would “refus[e] to pursue the
case at the price of being publicly identified” and
“the undesirability of an outcome adverse to the
pseudonymous party;” and (6) “Whether the party
seeking to sue pseudonymously has illegitimate ulterior
motives.” Id. at 408. The factors that weigh
against the use of pseudonyms are: (1) “The universal
level of public interest in access to identities of
litigants;” (2) “Whether, because of the subject
matter of this litigation, the status of a litigant as a
public figure, or otherwise, there is a particularly strong
interest in knowing the litigants' identities;” and
(3) “Whether the opposition to pseudonym by counsel,
the public or press is illegitimately motivated.”
the Megless analysis, Plaintiff has successfully
overcome the presumption that she should proceed using her
real name. As discussed further below, out of the six
Megless factors that support Plaintiff's use of
a pseudonym, factors (1), (2), (3), and (6) apply here. The
considerations that disfavor Plaintiff's anonymity do not
outweigh these factors.
(1) weighs in favor plaintiffs who “make substantial
efforts to maintain anonymity” and “limi[t] the
disclosure of sensitive information to few other
people.” Doe v. Rider Univ., No. CV 16-4882
(BRM), 2018 WL 3756950, at *3 (D.N.J. Aug. 7, 2018).
Plaintiff has done so here. Plaintiff's name remained
confidential throughout three Rutgers Office of Employment
Equity (“OEE”) investigations related to the
allegations in the Complaint. In total, it appears from the
record that less than fifteen people know Plaintiff's
identity, the vast majority of whom were involved either in
the underlying facts or in the OEE
investigations. Although Plaintiff willingly spoke with
members of the media, she did so under the condition of
anonymity, and her name was not disclosed in the resulting
news articles. (Def.'s Br., Ex. F, ECF No. 23-7).
does not dispute this. Rather, Defendant makes an
insupportable leap that because Plaintiff has revealed her
identity to a limited circle of individuals, Plaintiff
“has not taken any steps to maintain anonymity or keep
her identity confidential.” (Def.'s Br., ECF No.
23-10, at p. 8). Contrary to Defendant's assertion, this
case stands in sharp contrast to instances where courts have
found that anonymity would be futile because the
plaintiff's name was already widely known. See, e.g.,
Megless, 654 F.3d at 410 (plaintiff's name, picture
and home address had been disclosed on a publicly circulated
flyer); B.L. v. Zong, No. 3:15-CV-1327, 2017 WL
1036474, at *3-4 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 17, 2017) (alleged sexual
assault victim had “engaged…in
braggadocio” regarding the alleged assault, and his
name had been publicly disclosed in another proceeding).
Factor (2), the court looks to “the bases upon
which” Plaintiff fears disclosure of her identity, and
the “substantiality of these bases.” Plaintiff
must demonstrate that she reasonably fears “severe
harm” that exceeds mere “embarrassment.”
Megless, 654 F.3d at 408 (3d Cir. 2011). For
example, a plaintiff who wished to keep his bipolar disorder
diagnosis private was permitted to proceed pseudonymously in
an ERISA action, in order to shield him from
“embarrassment, ” “anxiety, ” and
“stigmatization, ” which may have
“aggravate[d] his condition.” Doe v. Hartford
Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 237 F.R.D. 545, 550 (D.N.J.
2006); see also Doe v. Provident Life & Acc. Ins.
Co.,176 F.R.D. 464, 468 (E.D. Pa. 1997) (allowing
plaintiff to proceed anonymously in his suit for benefits
based on disability from mental illness). On the other end of
the spectrum, routine fears of professional and social
embarrassment are insufficiently compelling. For example, the
court ordered the plaintiff in a Fair Debt Collection
Practices Act action to disclose his real name, despite the
plaintiff's fear that his professional standing as a
lawyer would be damaged if the legal community believed he
was financially irresponsible. Doe v. Law Offices of
Robert A. Schuerger Co., No. CV1713105BRMDEA, 2018 WL
4258155, at *2 (D.N.J. Sept. 6, 2018). Similarly, the court
denied Bucknell University students' motion to ...