Court grants woman anonymity in suit alleging sexual assault

JUAN A. LOZANO

HOUSTON (AP) — A federal appeals court on Wednesday stopped a judge from forcing a Texas woman to make her name public in a lawsuit alleging she was sexually assaulted by a co-worker.

The woman identified herself only as “Jane Doe” in a lawsuit she filed in Houston federal court over an arbitration dispute she has with her former employer, Macquarie Investment Management Advisers.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes said in a court order that he was planning to dismiss her lawsuit and wanted the woman to reveal her identity because she had given “no responsible reason” to keep her name secret. If she refused, Hughes’ order called on her employer to identify her, even though the company had not made such a request.

Advocates for sexual assault survivors were critical of Hughes’ order, saying such actions can prevent sexual assault victims from coming forward.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ordered Hughes to remove all paragraphs in his order that called for the woman to reveal her name. The appeals court had previously delayed the order while it considered a final ruling.

The appeals court said Hughes did not analyze three factors common to anonymous-party suits that the 5th Circuit has previously said “deserve considerable weight," including whether a suit will require a plaintiff “to disclose information of the utmost intimacy."

David George, one of the woman’s attorneys, called the appeals court’s ruling a “complete victory.”

George said if Hughes’ order had been “followed by other judges, it would put sexual assault survivors at risk and lead many of them to not want to pursue justice because of the fear of public disclosure.”

Courts and many media organizations — including The Associated Press — generally don't name people who say they have been sexually assaulted.

“The 5th Circuit specifically notes we never objected to Doe’s use of a pseudonym. Our position on this has not changed, and we reiterate that we have a very different view of the underlying events in this matter," Macquarie said in a statement.

Hughes’ office has said he can’t comment on a pending case.

The judge has been accused of sexism in the past. Last year, the 5th Circuit criticized Hughes for allegedly attributing errors made by a female prosecutor to her sex.

George said the case will be sent back to Hughes’ court to consider the woman’s arbitration claims.

The woman’s federal petition, filed on Oct. 21, stems from an arbitration dispute she has with her ex-employer, a financial firm that’s a subsidiary of Australia-based investment bank Macquarie Group Limited.

The woman's lawsuit doesn't give details about the sexual assault allegation but describes an attempted sexual assault by a different co-worker. She says it happened after a supervisor took workers to a strip club during a business trip to New Orleans.

She alleges Macquarie promoted the co-worker who tried to assault her and that she was punished with a lack of promotion and a threat of being fired.

In court filings, the company has said it “vigorously disputes” the woman’s claims.

Legal experts say Hughes’ order is not unprecedented as judges have wide discretion in deciding whether to reveal a plaintiff's identity.

In 2016, a Los Angeles judge ruled that a woman who accused NBA star Derrick Rose of rape couldn’t remain anonymous at her civil trial. In 2017, a Connecticut judge rejected the use of pseudonyms by two college students in a civil court case over an alleged rape.

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