New York Personal Injury Law Blog » Anonymity


May 11th, 2012

Travolta Sex Cases and Anonymity

Even if you don’t follow salacious Hollywood news, it’s hard to miss the stories coming out of John Travolta being sued for sexually harrassing masseuses. A couple have already sued him, under cover of anonymity.

We’ve seen this story play out before: A John or Jane Doe brings a case in federal court on some sensitive subject and asks to be anonymous. But just asking for anonymity is not the same as keeping it.

I hit this story the first time in 2006 when a woman sued in a New York federal court over a sexual assault. She wanted to stay anonymous. The court wouldn’t have it.

It came up again recently with an actress sued IMDb for violating her privacy by using her credit card to glean her date of birth — a sensitive issue in Hollywood due to age discrimination for women over 40 — and used the information to make edits to her online acting profile. Amazon owns IMDb, and she claimed that this is where the info came from. I predicted she would not keep that anonymity. And, in fact, she lost that fight and re-filed under her real name.

So now we come to the John Travolta accusers. If they are bringing suit in federal court within the 9th Circuit (see the complaint), which encompasses California, I think these people will also lose in their bid to stay anonymous. And it will be for the same reasons I set forth in the IMDb case:

In this circuit, we allow parties to use pseudonyms in the “unusual case” when nondisclosure of the party’s identity “is necessary … to protect a person from harassment, injury, ridicule or personal embarrassment.”

“a party may preserve his or her anonymity in judicial proceedings in special circumstances when the party’s need for anonymity outweighs  prejudice to the opposing party and  the public’s interest in knowing the party’s identity.” Does I Thru XXIII v. Advanced Textile Corp., 214 F.3d 1058, 1068 (9th Cir.2000).

So, if the accusers come out of the woodwork with claims, they had best be strong enough to withstand the media maelstrom if they are bringing those actions in federal court.

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