William Shakespeare asked in Romeo and Juliet: “What’s in a name?” One fellow answered that question by petitioning a Federal District Court in New York to allow him to sue his ex-employer under his former name so that prospective employers would not be able to retaliate against him.
Christopher Vega sued his former employer in 2016 claiming disability discrimination.
Some time later, he officially changed his name to Richard Stryker. Upon learning of the name-change, Magistrate Judge Kevin Nathaniel Fox ordered that the caption of the lawsuit be amended to reflect the new name of the plaintiff. Stryker objected and filed an application to keep his former name on the lawsuit.
Stryker argued that it was vital to proceed under his old name to protect his ability to secure new employment. Stryker contended that if prospective employers learn of the lawsuit, they might be dissuaded from hiring someone who is suing a former employer and/or was once diagnosed with depression and attention deficit disorder.
Much Ado About Nothing
Judge Fox denied Stryker’s application, noting that it was essentially a request to proceed in a lawsuit anonymously. The judge explained that it is in the public’s interest to know who is using the courts and that requests to proceed anonymously must demonstrate a compelling reason, such as:
– the need to protect highly sensitive matters of a personal nature;
– the need to avoid harm stemming from the disclosure of the name of a vulnerable person (e.g. a child); or
– the need to avoid retaliatory physical or mental harm, or other harms of a serious nature.
A Plaintiff By Any Other Name is Still Protected
Judge Fox found that Stryker’s concerns about possible damage to his ability to find a new job were insufficient to justify allowing him to proceed with the lawsuit under his old name. Indeed, the judge found this argument “speculative and baseless” since it was premised on conjecture that future employers might violate the laws protecting against discrimination and retaliation in hiring practices. Even if such violations occurred, those laws provide Stryker with valid remedies for any damages that might result.
Judge Fox concluded that the details of the lawsuit did not involve highly sensitive personal matters, nor did they subject Stryker unduly to retaliatory physical, mental or other special harm. He is not particularly vulnerable because of his age or circumstance and he has not demonstrated any other compelling rationale that would balance against the public’s interest in requiring Stryker to proceed under his current legal name. Stryker’s application was therefore denied and he was required to pursue his lawsuit under his current name.
If current or former employees wish to allege that their employers violated the law, they should have to stand behind those allegations and not hide behind former names or pseudonyms. Judge Fox clearly understood this and ruled appropriately. All’s well that ends well.