United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION & ORDER GRATING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION
FOR AN ORDER ALLOWING PLAINTIFF TO PROCEED UNDER THE
PSEUDONYM JANE DOE (DKT. 8)
A. GOLDSMITH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Jane Doe's motion
for an order allowing her to proceed pseudonymously (Dkt. 8).
The issues have been fully briefed, and a hearing was held on
July 12, 2018. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants
began her employment with Defendant City of Detroit's
Office of Development and Grants in January 2016. Compl.
¶ 10 (Dkt. 1). In April 2016, Doe informed the City that
she would be undergoing gender reassignment surgery to
transition from male to female, the gender with which she
identifies. Id. ¶ 12. Doe took medical leave
the following month, and returned in June 2016, where she
presented herself as a female. Id. ¶ 15.
Shortly thereafter, Doe was informed that two complaints had
been filed against her regarding her attire at work, despite
the City's lack of dress code. Id. ¶¶
17-19. After returning from a second medical leave in
December 2016, Doe began experiencing a pattern of
harassment, including having her office nameplate defaced to
identify her as male, receiving a male sex toy, and several
notes that admonished her for her transition, along with
threats of physical violence. Id. ¶¶
22-25, 33, 37. Doe alleges that despite informing her
supervisors of this harassment, and requesting that remedial
action be taken, the City took no action to protect her.
Id. ¶¶ 24, 26, 30-31. Doe subsequently
brought this suit against the City, alleging that it engaged
in sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title
VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000-e,
and Michigan's Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act, Mich.
Comp. Laws § 37.2101. Doe now brings the present motion,
in which she requests an order allowing her to proceed in
this action pseudonymously.
Rule of Civil Procedure 10(a) requires a complaint to name
all parties. However, the Sixth Circuit excuses plaintiffs
from identifying themselves in certain circumstances in which
a privacy interest substantially outweighs the presumption in
favor of open judicial proceedings. Doe v. Porter,
370 F.3d 558, 560 (6th Cir. 2004). Courts must consider the
following factors when making this determination: (i) whether
the plaintiffs seek to proceed anonymously in order to
challenge governmental activity; (ii) whether prosecuting the
suit will require the plaintiffs to disclose information
“of the utmost intimacy”; (iii) whether the case
will compel the plaintiffs to disclose an intention to
violate the law, and thus risk criminal prosecution; and (iv)
whether the plaintiffs are children. Id. (quoting
Doe v. Stegall, 653 F.2d 180, 185-186 (5th Cir.
1981)). Courts have also considered whether the plaintiffs
would risk suffering injury if identified and whether the
defendant would be prejudiced if the plaintiffs were
permitted to proceed pseudonymously. See Doe v.
Shakur, 164 F.R.D. 359, 364 (S.D.N.Y. 1996).
undisputed that the third and fourth factors - whether
identification will expose Doe to criminal prosecution and
whether she is a child - are inapplicable. She has not
indicated any intent to violate the law and is an adult.
There also does not appear to be any real dispute that she is
challenging governmental activity. She alleges that the City,
a governmental entity, has engaged in gender discrimination
and retaliation in light of her status as a transgender
Court must grapple with whether prosecution of this case will
require Doe to disclose information “of the utmost
intimacy, ” and relatedly, whether exposure of her
identity will risk injury. Stegall, 635 F.2d at 186;
Shakur, 164 F.R.D. at 364. Several courts have held
that an individual's transgender identity can carry
enough of a social stigma to overcome the presumption in
favor of disclosure. See Doe v. Blue Cross & Blue
Shield of Rhode Island, 794 F.Supp. 72, 72 (D.R.I.
1992); Doe v. McConn, 489 F.Supp. 76, 77 (S.D. Tex.
1980); McClure v. Harris, 503 F.Supp. 409, 412 (N.D.
Cal. 1980), rev'd sub nom. Schweiker v. McClure,
456 U.S. 188 (1982).
City argues that this Court cannot expose Doe as a
transgender woman because she has already done so herself. It
notes that she “has already made her transition from a
man to woman known. She has legally changed her name and
gender, making it known and clear to all that she now
identifies as a woman.” Def. Resp. at 4-5. However,
while her employer and coworkers are aware that she has
transitioned from male to female, a disclosure that was
necessary because her transition began after she had already
started working for the City, the general public is not
necessarily aware that Doe is transgender. While she publicly
identifies as female, the fact that she previously presented
as male, and had a procedure to reassign her gender,
certainly qualifies as information “of the utmost
intimacy.” Stegall, 635 F.2d at 186.
regard to whether exposure of Doe's identity will risk
injury, Doe has alleged several instances of harassment,
including notes threatening her life because of her
transition. The City cites cases where courts have held that
“[t]o support a fear of retaliation, the plaintiff must
demonstrate that such retaliation is not merely hypothetical
but based in some real-world evidence; a simple fear is
insufficient.” See, e.g., Does v.
Shalushi, No. 10-11837, 2010 WL 3037789, at *3 (E.D.
Mich. July 30, 2010). It notes that the court in
Porter reviewed evidence of threatening letters to
the plaintiff, as opposed to Doe, who merely “makes a
general reference to violence against transgender
individuals, ” and whose allegations of harassment
occurred over a year ago. While Doe has not presented
evidence of the harassment at this early stage of the
litigation, her complaint alleges specific instances of harm
that have resulted from her transition. While “those
who presumably would have any animosity toward her already
know her true identity, ” Shakur, 164 F.R.D.
at 362, Doe has expressed fear of “copycats”
within and outside of her office who may harm her if they
learn that she is transgender. The Court believes this fear
is justified, and takes judicial notice of the increased
threat of violence to which transgender individuals are
exposed. See “A Time to Act: Fatal Violence
Against Transgender People in America in 2017, ” at 33,
last factor to consider is the possible prejudice suffered by
the City if Doe is permitted to proceed pseudonymously.
Shakur, 164 F.R.D. at 364. The City argues that it
will be prejudiced if Doe is allowed to continue under a
pseudonym, because it will be hindered in its ability to
mount a defense against Doe's claims of sex
discrimination. It asserts that it will be unable to obtain
subpoenas or releases for records pertaining to Doe if she is
allowed to proceed pseudonymously.
argument is not well-taken. Doe's counsel has indicated
that she only wishes to shield's Doe's name from the
public docket, but that she does not object to defense
counsel using Doe's real name (to which counsel is privy)
in order to obtain records, or during the course of
depositions, provided that such records, if filed on the
docket, redact Doe's true identity. Doe's counsel has
also agreed to facilitate document production if necessary,
and the Court believes a protective order to this effect can
be fashioned. Because Doe only wishes to shield her name from
use in public court records, and not prevent the City from
using it in order to obtain discovery, the Court does not
find that allowing Doe to proceed pseudonymously will
prejudice the City.
foregoing reasons, the Court grants Doe's motion to
proceed pseudonymously (Dkt. 8). The parties shall prepare a
proposed protective order regarding how to protect Doe's
identity in accordance with this order. ...