A trans woman who’s suing the University of Pennsylvania and its hospital for medical malpractice, wrongful termination and other wrongdoing continues to fight for the right to remain anonymous as a litigant.
On Aug. 2, Penn officials asked U.S. District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg to unseal the real name of “Jane Doe,” claiming it’s unfair for Doe to hide “behind the shield of a pseudonym,” while she criticizes by name Penn employees in publicly-accessible court papers.
But in an Aug. 16 filing, Doe asserts that if she’s outed, her HIPAA rights would be violated. HIPAA — the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 — is federal legislation that safeguards personal medical information from unwarranted disclosure.
As of presstime, Goldberg hadn’t issued a ruling on Penn’s request.
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.
Gender dysphoria is a medical condition that some trans people have. People with gender dysphoria feel distress because their assigned gender at birth doesn’t match their gender identity.
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.
According to Doe’s Aug.16 filing, “defendants seek to violate [Doe’s] HIPAA and other
privacy rights, by releasing information protected by those laws.” The filing goes on to point out that “HIPAA protects identification and other personal health information from disclosure. [To disclose Doe’s name] is against the public interest.”
Doe’s filing adds: “There is no interest in having privacy laws violated in this or any matter and certainly not by the defendants, [who are] Ms. Doe’s health-care providers and [former] employers.”
An earlier filing by Doe emphasized the dangers and stigma trans people face in society, thus rendering her anonymity a necessity. “Trans people are stigmatized,” the July 2 filing states. “The abuse they are subjected to ranges from mocking and harmful comments in the media, to estrangement, suicide and murder.” The filing 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 defense attorneys emphasized the “strong presumption” in federal cases that litigants will be identified by their real name. “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,” defense attorneys wrote in an Aug. 2 filing.
Neither side had a comment for this update.