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No Pseudonymity in Doctor's Disability Law Case


From Judge Dan Polster's opinion today in Koe v. Univ. Hospitals Health Sys., Inc. (N.D. Ohio):

Plaintiff states that he was a resident physician in the Case Western Reserve University/University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center residency program beginning in June 2019. He also states that he is a qualified individual with a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act ….

Plaintiff alleges that in the course of his residency, other residents and nursing staff repeatedly questioned Plaintiff regarding his health and the health of his family. During a year-end performance review, Plaintiff advised his program director that he believed this action constituted harassment on the basis of disability and created a hostile work environment, and he asked the program director to stop the behavior. Plaintiff contends that the program director failed to take corrective action. According to Plaintiff, during the next performance review, the program director advised Plaintiff that he must have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) assessment but neglected to explain why. Plaintiff continued to reach out to the program director to inquire as to her rationale for mandating the assessment to no avail. Plaintiff contends that, fearing discharge, he reluctantly met with a University Hospitals clinician for the assessment and a follow-up assessment. Plaintiff alleges that after the assessment, he was forced, under verbal and written threat of discharge, to sign a "Compliance Contract" that conditioned Plaintiff's continued employment on his submission to ongoing compulsory counseling. He claims that Defendants subjected him to ongoing discriminatory and retaliatory harassment.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' behavior constituted a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Title I of the ADA; and Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008….

Plaintiff moves for leave to file this action anonymously. In support, he alleges that he is compelled to disclose information of the "utmost intimacy," including "conversations pertaining to counseling sessions." He alleges that medical decisions relating to his health care and treatment are sensitive and personal matters warranting the use of a pseudonym….

"It is the exceptional case in which a plaintiff may proceed under a fictitious name." …

In his motion to proceed anonymously, Plaintiff argues that the pursuit of his claims would compel him to disclose information "of the utmost intimacy," such as conversations pertaining to counseling sessions and medical decisions relating to his health care and treatment. Plaintiff has failed, however, to identify any exceptional circumstances distinguishing his case from other cases brought by plaintiffs alleging disability discrimination who may also have medical records concerning mental health treatment. See Doe v. Carson (6th Cir. 2020) (Doe's disability discrimination case did not present exceptional circumstances distinguishing her case from other cases brought by plaintiffs claiming disability discrimination who suffer from mental illness sufficient to excuse her from Rule 10(a)'s requirement that a plaintiff's complaint "must name all the parties"). Nor has Plaintiff identified any specific harm arising from disclosure of his identity. Moreover, Plaintiff's complaint includes many factual allegations that would make identification of Plaintiff relatively simple, including the names of the program director who ordered the EAP assessment and the clinician who conducted the assessment, as well as information concerning Plaintiff's medical license, specialty, and dates of employment.

Having considered the relevant factors, the Court finds that Plaintiff's privacy interests do not substantially outweigh the presumption of open judicial proceedings sufficient to warrant anonymity. Plaintiff's motion to proceed anonymously is therefore denied, and the action is dismissed for lack of jurisdiction…. If Plaintiff wishes to continue this case, he must within fourteen (14) days of the entry of this order: (1) file a motion to reopen the case; and (2) file an amended complaint identifying himself.

Congratulations to David A. Campbell and Donald G. Slezak (Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, LLP), who represent defendants.