Penn seeks to ‘out’ trans litigant

Penn seeks to ‘out’ trans litigant

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Officials at The University of Pennsylvania want a federal judge to unseal the real name of a trans woman who’s suing the university and its hospital for medical malpractice, wrongful termination and other wrongdoing.

“Jane Doe” claims she was mistreated during a routine medical procedure at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in February 2018. Four months later, she was fired from her job at HUP, after the hospital allegedly exacerbated her gender dysphoria.

On July 2, Doe filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The defendants include HUP, The University of Pennsylvania and its trustees, various Penn medical staffers and Penn police officers. The complaints against them include assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, anti-trans bias, false imprisonment, violation of privacy rights, sex discrimination and medical malpractice.  Additionally, HUP is charged with wrongful termination

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg. Doe has a pending request with Goldberg that she be permitted to move forward with the litigation using a pseudonym. But in an Aug. 2 legal filing, defense attorneys said Doe shouldn’t be permitted to proceed anonymously. They urged Goldberg to unseal Doe’s real name.

Doe’s anonymity request emphasizes the danger that trans people face. “Trans people are stigmatized,” the request states. “The abuse they are subjected to ranges from mocking and harmful comments in the media, to estrangement, suicide and murder.” The request also notes that Doe “has been insulted, isolated and assaulted for being trans. Based on her experience, [Doe] fears that disclosure of her condition and the relief she seeks here will bring her severe harm.”

But Penn’s filing states that Doe’s request fails to overcome the strong presumption that litigants’ real names are to be used in federal cases. Instead Doe relies on “generalizations about society’s negative feelings towards transgender individuals” to support her request for anonymity, according to the filing.

“In her publicly-filed complaint, [Doe] hurls heinous allegations at the Penn defendants, including acts of ‘transphobic hatred’ and the purposeful commission of medical malpractice because of ‘hate’ for transgender people. The Penndefendants’ good names and reputations have been threatened without the benefit of using fictitious names in this litigation. For the sake of fairness and open access to the courts, [Doe] should be required to proceed in her own name in this litigation, and her motion to proceed in anonymity should be denied,” the Penn filing states.

The filing also notes that Doe used her real name in an administrative complaint she filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in April 2018.  In that complaint, Doe stated: “I was discharged from my place of employment because of illegal gender discrimination and discrimination against a person with a disability. My employer has destroyed my career by destroying my privacy, causing me to be assaulted and further exacerbating my disabilities.”

Moreover, the defense filing claims that using Doe’s real name won’t deter others from filing lawsuits in the future. “[Doe] proclaims that ‘trans people are stigmatized’ and that ‘there is a public interest in prevent[ing] further stigmatization of trans people and [Doe].’ While the Penn defendants do not dispute that there is a public interest in preventing further stigmatization of transgender individuals, this factor examines whether denying anonymity would deter other similarly situated plaintiffs from bringing suit. [Doe] has presented no evidence that this court’s denial of anonymity will deter other similarly situated plaintiffs from bringing forth their claims, and therefore, this factor weighs in favor of disclosure.”

The filing concludes by noting that “this [Third] Circuit’s strong presumption of openness weighs heavily in favor of disclosure,” and that “[Doe] should not be permitted to wage this attack on the Penn defendants’ good names and reputations from behind the shield of a pseudonym. The public has the right to know the identities of both [Doe] and defendants.”

Ron Ozio, a Penn spokesperson, declined to comment about the filing. “The University typically does not comment on pending litigation,” he said, in an Aug. 2 email. Holly Auer, a HUP spokesperson, also declined to comment.

Julie Chovanes, an attorney for Doe, also had no comment, and her reply brief on behalf of Doe hadn’t been filed as of presstime. 

Doe is seeking an unspecified amount in punitive and compensatory damages, along with reasonable attorney’s fees. A jury trial has been requested.


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