Labor & Employment Law Daily RN fired after employer learns of drug addiction history can’t proceed under a pseudonym
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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

RN fired after employer learns of drug addiction history can’t proceed under a pseudonym

By Kathleen Kapusta, J.D.

The employee failed to demonstrate that exceptional circumstances existed to override the strong presumption of public access to judicial proceedings.

Denying a motion to proceed using a pseudonym, filed by a registered nurse who alleged she was fired after her hospital employer received an anonymous letter stating she was a recovered drug addict, a federal district court in Pennsylvania, applying a nine factor balancing test, found only three factors weighed in favor of permitting her to use the pseudonym: her fear of reputational harm, backlash, and possible relapse; her lack of ulterior motives; and the fact she was a private figure and the public did not have a heightened interest in the case (Doe v. Main Line Hospitals, Inc., September 1, 2020, Marston, K.).

Factors supporting disclosure. Five of the other six factors, the court observed, supported disclosure of her identity—including the degree of public interest in her identity; the highly fact-intensive nature of her claims; other recovered drug addicts would not be deterred from suing if she is forced to reveal her name; some of her coworkers were aware of her status; and her employer was not opposing the use of a pseudonym for nefarious reasons but rather due to a desire to even the playing field. Accordingly, the employee failed to overcome the strong presumption in favor of requiring parties to publicly identify themselves.

Sympathetic but… Emphasizing that it did not discount the employee’s “very real concerns about reputational harm, both personally or professionally, or her fears of relapse in the event of such backlash,” the court explained that “those types of fears are similar to those of other plaintiffs who have alleged that they were discriminated against because of their histories of substance abuse, and it is clear that several similarly-situated plaintiffs have publicly identified themselves in their own litigations.” Although sympathetic, the court found the employee’s concerns were not so exceptional as to outweigh the other factors.

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