Plaintiffs on this case are thirty-nine people who’re presently employed by federal govt companies or federal contractors and have chosen to not obtain a COVID-19 vaccination. Pursuant to Govt Orders 14042 and 14043 (the “Vaccination Mandates”), Plaintiffs are required to obtain the COVID-19 vaccination. Due to their standing as unvaccinated individuals, Plaintiffs declare that they face termination as federal workers or removing from federal authorities contracts. Plaintiffs subsequently request that the Court docket declare the Vaccination Mandates illegal and subject a nationwide injunction enjoining enforcement of these Govt Orders.
Earlier than the Court docket is Plaintiffs’ Movement to Proceed Underneath Pseudonym (“Movement”) on this motion. Relatively than reaching the deserves of the Movement with the scant proof supplied by Plaintiffs––two affidavits filed together with a Reply Temporary––the Court docket ordered that every one 39 Plaintiffs to submit affidavits in assist of the movement to proceed underneath pseudonym. The aim of this order was to allow the Court docket to conduct the requisite authorized evaluation––primarily based on report proof––to rule on Plaintiffs’ Movement….
In response to the Court docket’s order, Plaintiffs’ counsel suggested that one plaintiff determined to not proceed forth with this lawsuit, and 22 of the remaining 38 plaintiffs not desired to proceed underneath pseudonyms. Defendants, the heads of the federal govt companies that make use of or contract with the Plaintiffs, have responded in opposition to Plaintiffs’ Movement. Plaintiffs have replied, and Defendants have filed a sur-reply. After cautious evaluate of the evidentiary report, motions, and pleadings, the Court docket finds for the explanations under that Plaintiffs’ Movement is DENIED. The case shall proceed forth with Plaintiffs’ true names on this public discussion board….
[A] celebration could proceed underneath pseudonym by establishing “a considerable privateness proper which outweighs the customary and constitutionally-embedded presumption of openness in judicial proceedings.'” Performing this balancing take a look at requires the court docket to think about whether or not the celebration in search of anonymity “(1) is difficult authorities exercise; (2) could be compelled, absent anonymity, to reveal info of the utmost intimacy; or (3) could be compelled, absent anonymity, to confess an intent to have interaction in unlawful conduct and thus threat felony prosecution.” …
[As to the third question,] no felony conduct is at subject right here ….
As to the primary query, the caselaw displays that plaintiffs difficult a governmental exercise appear to hardly ever be permitted to proceed underneath a pseudonym. Because the Eleventh Circuit has defined, “no printed opinion that we’re conscious of has ever permitted a plaintiff to proceed anonymously merely as a result of the criticism challenged authorities exercise.” …
As is the state of affairs right here, the place public workers sue the heads of the companies for which they work, “elevating an array of public regulation points, the general public curiosity in figuring out the element[s] of the litigation that might have an effect on authorities coverage throughout the nation is especially nice.” As a result of Plaintiffs listed below are difficult the constitutional, statutory, and regulatory validity of presidency exercise affecting all federal workers and all workers of presidency contractors, this primary query within the SMU evaluation doesn’t weigh in favor of granting Plaintiffs’ request to proceed underneath pseudonyms.
The second issue of the SMU evaluation, which focuses on the disclosure of a plaintiff’s intimate particulars, has traditionally yielded a confined utility…. Issues impacting “private info of the utmost intimacy” embody, for instance, abortion, the usage of contraception, homosexuality, sexually-exploited minor kids, and private non secular beliefs. Nonetheless, “the general public’s professional curiosity in figuring out all the details concerned, together with the identities of the events … creates a robust presumption in favor of events’ continuing in their very own names.”
Right here, the asserted intimate info which Plaintiffs allege that they are going to be required to disclose to the general public is their “medical vaccine standing[es].” Particularly, the report proof demonstrates that the sixteen affiants in search of to proceed underneath pseudonym specific misgivings about revealing “delicate,” “private,” or “personal” “medical info,” particularly that the affiant is unvaccinated.
One’s COVID-19 vaccination standing, by itself, doesn’t rise to the extent of “private info of the utmost intimacy” for which courts have traditionally granted anonymity. In factually analogous instances, courts have discovered that a person’s selection to say no to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine just isn’t, by itself, sufficiently delicate to justify continuing underneath pseudonym.
Whereas some courts have held that a person’s determination to not obtain the COVID-19 vaccine is a matter of intimate info, these courts’ choices have hinged on the sensitivity of the disclosure of that particular person’s non secular beliefs, not his or her determination to not obtain the COVID-19 vaccination. These instances are subsequently distinguishable from the current matter.
Whereas a number of of the affiants acknowledged that they declined to obtain the COVID- 19 vaccine no less than partly due to their non secular beliefs, such non secular beliefs have been introduced as the muse for the person’s medical decisions, not as intimate info unto itself. In different phrases, these affiants didn’t characterize that their non secular beliefs are delicate or intimate info. To the extent that their non secular beliefs are implicated, they’re merely introduced as a rationale behind the affiants’ determination to say no a COVID-19 vaccination…. [T]he gravamen of every affidavit is a concern of showing “extremely private medical info, which might have an affect on [the Plaintiff’s] employment standing.” Such info is solely not sufficiently intimate to beat the “sturdy presumption in favor of events’ continuing in their very own names.”
Even when the affiants meant to convey that the intimate info they sought to guard was their non secular beliefs, the Movement earlier than this Court docket makes no point out of Plaintiffs’ non secular beliefs or whether or not Plaintiffs sought an exemption from the Vaccination Mandates primarily based on these non secular beliefs, as supplied for within the Govt Orders they problem.
Subsequent, Plaintiffs argue that they want to proceed underneath pseudonyms as a result of they imagine that the underlying material of their declare “has turn into extraordinarily politicized.” Their affidavits profess opaque considerations that statements from the President and different federal authorities officers encouraging the general public to get vaccinated will end in skilled repercussions for overtly unvaccinated people employed by the federal authorities.
One particular person defined that he feared being considered a “Plague Rat,” whereas one other fearful that he could be the recipient of “vilifying feedback about individuals who have chosen to not take COVID-19 vaccines.” Different affiants expressed considerations that they might be focused with derogatory remarks from coworkers and supervisors in the event that they have been revealed as unvaccinated, or that they might be pressured by such people to get vaccinated, and one particular person pointed to incidents of coarse commentary from a supervisor urging him to get vaccinated. Nonetheless others declare that they are going to be focused on social media with harassment or mockery.
The Court docket doesn’t take these considerations flippantly and would admonish any federal employer or federal contractor from making such impolite, inappropriate, and unprofessional feedback. However finally, a need to keep away from uncomfortable office conversations is, at its core, a social consideration that’s neither extremely delicate nor private in nature underneath case precedent. The truth is, many courts inside the Eleventh Circuit have declined to grant anonymity to plaintiffs going through the prospect of publicity as an alcoholic, a intercourse offender, a transgender particular person, and even an grownup sufferer of rape….
Additional, the report proof right here merely doesn’t assist the vilification that Plaintiffs allege they’ll face. Notably, 39 Plaintiffs proceeded forth with this lawsuit with a generalized concern of office retaliation for his or her option to not obtain the COVID-19 vaccination. And simply 4 months after submitting their Grievance, greater than half of the unique Plaintiffs determined that they not desired to proceed anonymously. This important discount within the variety of Plaintiffs in search of to proceed underneath pseudonyms weighs towards Plaintiffs’ declare that there’s stigma related being unvaccinated as a federal worker or contractor. In the end, “[a]bsent such stigma, the declare for privateness primarily based upon a medical subject have to be waived when one chooses a public discussion board to settle a personal dispute.” …
The Court docket acknowledges that roughly forty % of the unique Plaintiffs on this case preserve their considerations about disclosing their vaccination decisions, and this order just isn’t meant to decrease these considerations. However primarily based on the report earlier than this Court docket, the … balancing take a look at ideas in favor of the constitutionally embedded presumption of openness on this judicial continuing….