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Litigant Can't Seal Case to "Improve Her Chances of Employment"

A federal magistrate holds that the right of access to court records precludes such sealing.


From Magistrate Judge Irma Carrillo Ramirez Thursday in Abibou v. Rho Inc., 2020 WL 1808608 (N.D. Tex.):

[Plaintiff] seeks to seal the record of his case permanently …. [The case was a sex and national origin discrimination case that plaintiff had filed, without a lawyer, in 2016, and that had been dismissed when she failed to prosecute the case and to supply the court with an updated address. The plaintiff is a woman, but the Magistrate Judge apparently incorrectly refers to her as "he." -EV.]

"'[C]ourts have recognized that the public has a [presumptive] common law right to inspect and copy judicial records.'" SEC v. Van Waeyenberghe, 990 F.2d 845, 848 (5th Cir.1993) (quoting Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978))…. [T]he discretion to seal judicial records and files should be exercised "charily." Id. "In exercising its discretion to seal judicial records, the court must balance the public's common law right of access against the interests favoring nondisclosure." Having public access to judicial records "serves to promote trustworthiness of the judicial process, to curb judicial abuses, and to provide the public with a more complete understanding of the judicial system, including a better perception of its fairness."

Here, the plaintiff seeks to seal the record of his case permanently in order to "greatly improve [his] chances of employment." In Macias v. Aaron Rents, Inc., 288 F. App'x 913, 915 (5th Cir. 2008), the plaintiff moved to seal the record of his employment discrimination lawsuit because of the alleged "lack of importance to the public and the potential for employer retaliation against litigious employees." Finding that the plaintiff's concerns could apply to nearly all cases, especially those involving employment discrimination, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the district court had not abused its discretion in denying the motion and affirmed the decision.

Likewise, in Elbertson v. Chevron, U.S.A., Inc., No. H-10-0153, 2010 WL 4642963, at (S.D. Tex. Nov. 9, 2010), the plaintiff sought to seal the record of her employment discrimination case based on her belief that it could be detrimental to her current and future employment, arguing that her job security outweighed the public's right of access. The district court denied the motion, noting that "[t]he harm feared by the plaintiff here is precisely the same harm that most employment discrimination plaintiffs face, and yet there is no tradition of sealing all such records." The court also noted that the fact that the public had already had access to the documents was a factor weighing in favor of continued access.

As in those cases, the plaintiff in this case has presented nothing to overcome the presumption of public access to the record in this employment discrimination case, which was closed more than three years ago. The motion to seal this case is DENIED.