Court Rejects FLSA Plaintiff’s Request to Proceed Against Bloomberg Under Pseudonym

In Michael v. Bloomberg (SDNY 2/11/15) – yes, that is the actual caption – the court rejected plaintiff’s motion for a protective order and to proceed pseudonymously. Plaintiff alleges that Bloomberg engaged in violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law by failing to pay proper overtime premiums to workers in its Analytics Department.

Pointing to Bloomberg’s alleged engaging in public disparagement of plaintiffs in FLSA suits, plaintiff argued that he fears “publicity associated with the complaint will harm [his] future job prospects with other future employers.”

Bloomberg argued “that plaintiff’s purported privacy concerns are vague and shared by nearly every plaintiff suing his or her employer, and that plaintiffs argument would render every FLSA case an exceptional case justifying such secrecy in their proceedings” and that “as in any FLSA lawsuit, Bloomberg has a right to know the identity of its adversary, the putative class and opt-in members have a right to know whether [plaintiff] will be an adequate representative for them, and the public has a legitimate interest in knowing the facts at issue in court proceedings.”

The court agreed with Bloomberg:

Under Rule 10(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must “name all the parties.” This requirement, though seemingly pedestrian, serves the vital purpose of facilitating public scrutiny of judicial proceedings and therefore cannot be set aside lightly. The use of pseudonyms runs afoul of the public’s common law right of access to judicial proceedings, a right that is supported by the First Amendment. …

Nevertheless, courts in the Second Circuit have carved out a limited number of exceptions to the general requirement of disclosure [of the names of parties], which permit plaintiffs to proceed anonymously. The central inquiry in determining whether a plaintiff may proceed pseudonymously is a balancing of a plaintiffs interest in anonymity … against both the public interest in disclosure and any prejudice to the defendant. The Second Circuit has identified a non-exhaustive list of factors that district courts may take into consideration in balancing these interests: [listing factors]. …

The Court has balanced plaintiffs possible interest in anonymity against the potential prejudice to defendants and the public’s interest in disclosure, and concludes that the factors weigh in favor of denying plaintiffs motion. There is no issue here of physical retaliation or mental harm against plaintiff. Nor is this the type of unusual case involving matters of a highly sensitive or personal nature—i.e., claims involving sexual orientation, pregnancy, or minor children—in which courts have justified anonymous plaintiffs proceeding pseudonymously. To depart in this case from the general requirement of disclosure would be to hold that nearly any plaintiff bringing a lawsuit against an employer would have a basis to proceed pseudonymously. The court declines to reach such a holding.

While plaintiff offered to disclose his true identity to Bloomberg, “this unorthodox arrangement still runs against the public’s traditional right of access to judicial proceedings, and may also preclude potential class members from properly evaluating the qualifications of the class representative.”

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