Free Speech

Plaintiff "Must Have Known That the Embarrassing Events During His Previous Employment Would Be Central to … the Case"

Court records are generally public records, embarrassing as they might be for the parties.

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From Cicvara v. Gillette Co., decided in 2015 but just posted on Westlaw:

The court granted Gillette's Motion for Summary Judgment in its Ruling dated November 22, 2011. The court need not go into detail, but it suffices to say that facts of this case are such that they present Cicvara in an unflattering light, and those facts were recounted in the court's Ruling.

We interrupt the regularly scheduled opinion to cut to the Second Circuit's opinion upholding that 2011 ruling (in an employment case), which gives more details:

Despite Cicvara's attempts to characterize his alleged activity as a mere "pass," a "sexual overture," or an "inappropriate" and "awkward event," the Company reasonably determined that he engaged in "gross misconduct which is materially and demonstrably injurious to the company." Here, appellant stripped down to his underwear, massaged Ms. Liu's body, disregarded her protests, and then proceeded to tell her "one could rape you" at a time when the Company's relationship with Ms. Liu's organization was already strained. These facts speak for themselves. The district court was therefore correct to find, "[o]n the basis of the evidence presented, no rational trier of fact could find that Gillette failed to exercise its discretion reasonably and in good faith."

Returning to the district court opinion:

Presumably, for that reason, Cicvara filed a Letter requesting that the court seal documents related to this case. He further requests that the court order a number of companies providing Internet search engines to remove links that lead to this case's documents from their search engines' results.

The court denies Cicvara's requests. Common law provides the public with a right of access to judicial documents. See Lugosch v. Pyramid Co. of Onondaga (2d Cir. 2006). A "judicial document" is one that is "relevant to the performance of the judicial function and useful in the judicial process."

This right of access is not an unqualified one; rather, judicial documents are presumed accessible by the public, and that presumption may be overcome. The weight of the presumption is determined by "the role of the material at issue in the exercise of Article III judicial power and the resultant value of such information to those monitoring the federal courts."

Documents used by parties moving for, or opposing, summary judgment are entitled to the strongest presumption: they "should not remain under seal absent the most compelling reasons." After determining the weight of the presumption of access, the court balances that presumption against competing considerations, such as the danger of impairing law enforcement, judicial efficiency, and the privacy interest of those resisting disclosure.

Cicvara seeks to seal the entire case, including all documents at the trial court and appellate level. As an initial matter, "[c]ase law and local rules within this district expressly disfavor the blanket sealing of an entire case." Morgan v. Dzurenda (D. Conn. Nov. 4, 2014). The court denies this blanket request.

To the extent that Cicvara requests to seal only those documents containing unappealing information about himself, granting such a request would require the court to seal the parties' Motions for Summary Judgment and the related Memoranda. If it were to grant such a request, the court would have to seal its Ruling disposing of those Motions. These documents are all clearly "judicial documents." Indeed, they are at the core of Article III judicial power, so the presumption of access is at its strongest.

No competing considerations present in this case overcome the presumption of access. The court understands that Cicvara's situation is an unpleasant one that involves concerns about his privacy. However, Cicvara brought the lawsuit, and he must have known that the embarrassing events during his previous employment would be central to the disposition of the case. Thus, this is not a case where an innocent third party's privacy interests are at stake. Aside from Cicvara's interest in his own privacy, no other competing considerations are present, and Cicvara's interest itself is insufficient to overcome the strong presumption of access.

As to Cicvara's second request, because sealing documents in this case would be inappropriate, the court has no basis to order companies that provide Internet search engines to remove links leading to such documents.