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Doe 1 v. George Washington University

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 27, 2019

JANE DOE 1, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          REGGIE B. WALTON United States District Judge

         The plaintiffs filed this civil action, using the pseudonyms Jane Does 1 to 5, against George Washington University (“GW”) and Kyle Renner, a GW employee being sued in his capacity as GW's General Operations Manager and the plaintiffs' supervisor (collectively, “the defendants”), pursuant to the District of Columbia's Human Rights Act (“D.C. Human Rights Act”), D.C. Code §§ 2-1401-1404.04 (2001), alleging that the defendants (1) created a hostile work environment (“Count I”), (2) retaliated against them for their complaints of sexual harassment (“Count II”), (3) discriminated against them because of their gender (“Count III”), and (4) aided and abetted the discriminatory and retaliatory conduct (“Count IV”). First Amended Complaint And Jury Demand (“Am. Compl.”) ¶¶ 116, 123, 133, 140. The plaintiffs bring an additional three claims against GW for (1) negligent training and supervision (“Count V”); (2) indifference to sexual harassment in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 (“Title IX”), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-88 (2018) (“Count VI”); and (3) retaliation in violation of Title IX (“Count VII”). Am. Compl. ¶¶ 145, 149-50, 160. Currently before the Court are (1) the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss All Claims of Plaintiffs Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 3 and All Plaintiffs' Claims in Counts III and V of the Complaint (“Defs.' Mot.”), (2) the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint (“Defs.' 2d Mot.”), and (3) the Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to Proceed with the Pseudonyms Jane Does 1-5 (“Pls.' Mot.”). Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions, [1] the Court concludes for the reasons below that the defendants' motion to dismiss the Complaint must be denied as moot, [2] the plaintiffs' motion for leave to proceed pseudonymously should be granted, and the defendants' motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint must be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         All five plaintiffs are female undergraduate students who attend GW. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 24, 37, 46, 71, 83. During the time period relevant to their claims against the defendants, the plaintiffs worked in various roles at the Institute for International Economic Policy (“IIEP”), see id., which is located within the Elliott School of International Affairs at GW, id. ¶ 17. Emerson Jones, one of the alleged perpetrators of the harassing conduct who is not a party to this action, was also employed by the IIEP in a supervisory position. Id. ¶ 19. When Jones began working at the IIEP, all of the plaintiffs, with the exception of Jane Doe 1, were already working there.

         See id. ¶¶ 24, 37, 71, 85. Later in the fall of 2017, Jane Doe 1 began her employment at the IIEP. See id. ¶ 46. The following are the plaintiffs' relevant allegations.

         A. Jones's Alleged Conduct

         According to the plaintiffs, beginning in March 2017, IIEP staff members complained to Renner about Jones's behavior. See id. ¶ 91. These complaints were allegedly largely ignored by Renner by his silencing of female complainants. See id. In general, Jones would purportedly “frequently brag in the workplace about his sexual exploitation of the women in the workplace.” Id. ¶ 34. For example, Jones allegedly “publicly announced to the IIEP staff members his sexual rating of the female coworkers from best to worse.” Id. ¶ 32. On another occasion, he purportedly described one of the women he raped as “a dead fish because she was so drunk.” Id.

         Jones was also allegedly verbally abusive to women employed in the IIEP. On one occasion, Jane Doe 2's coworker purportedly informed her that “Jones had been ‘degrading' Jane Doe 2.” Id. ¶ 33. In addition, Jane Doe 5 contends that she personally “observed Jones shut down a female coworker after the female coworker requested that Jones stop verbally harassing her.” Id. ¶ 86. Jones allegedly became extremely aggressive, belittled her, and told the female coworker that she needed to stop being “emotional” and to get “used to this type of behavior in a work environment.” Id.[3] Jane Doe 5 also contends that she heard “Jones talk to other coworkers in the workplace about women in a sexually demeaning way and has heard Jones brag about his sexual experiences.” Id. ¶ 87.

         “The female workers, including Jane Doe 5, felt extremely uncomfortable around Jones due to his aggressive behavior and misogynistic comments.” Id. ¶ 85. According to Jane Doe 5, Jones would intentionally refer to the female employees by “the incorrect names claiming that all the women in the office are the same.” Id. ¶ 88. He also allegedly referred to new female staff members as his “new office crush[es].” Id. ¶ 42.

         1. Jane Doe 1

         Less than a month after Jane Doe 1 started working at the IIEP, Jones allegedly began harassing her. On October 1, 2017, she contends that Jones sent her a text message stating, “oh my god you're so hot.” Id. ¶ 48. Within a week, on October 6, 2017, Jones allegedly asked Jane Doe 1 to come to his house, but she refused. Id. ¶ 49. According to Jane Doe 1, later that month, “[o]n October 26, 2017, [she] learned that Jones had threatened to kill her female coworker, ” which made Jane Doe 1 fearful of Jones. Id. ¶ 50. And on November 9, 2017, Jane Doe 1 contends that she received a text message from a female coworker, asking Jane Doe 1 if Jones had left the office. See id. ¶ 51. Jane Doe 1 represents that the coworker told her that she was hiding from Jones in fear that he would sexually assault her. See id.

         Two days prior to an upcoming performance, [4] Jane Doe 1 contends that she told Jones that she was “stressed about her [ ] performance.” Id. ¶ 52. Jones allegedly asked if he could attend the performance, but Jane Doe 1 represents that she told him no. See id. On December 9, 2017, Jones allegedly sent Jane Doe 1 a text message, “containing a picture of [Jane Doe 1] during her performance.” Id. ¶ 53. Apparently, despite Jane Doe 1's objections, Jones had attended the performance. See id. Three days later, Jones purportedly again asked Jane Doe 1 on a date, which she refused. Id. ¶ 54.

         On December 19, 2017, Jane Doe 1 filed a complaint with Renner regarding Jones's behavior. See id. ¶ 58. After Jane Doe 1 “described Jones'[s] behavior toward her, and [ ] stated that one of her female coworkers had been raped[, ] Renner responded, ‘sometimes you need to work with people that you don't necessarily get along with.'” Id. On December 21, 2017, a Title IX investigator contacted Jane Doe 1 by email in response to her complaint, but allegedly “took no action beyond that email and failed to conduct any independent investigation beyond reaching out to the complainant.” Id. ¶ 63. On January 30, 2018, Jane Doe 1 allegedly heard “Jones openly discuss[ing] his sexual exploits in the workplace, ” and began “demean[ing] the women he ‘slept with.'” Id. ¶ 64.

         Following Jane Doe 1's December 19, 2017 initial complaint to Renner, she contends that Jones “deliberately and intentionally increased his hostility towards her.” Id. ¶ 66. For example, on February 1, 2018, Jane Doe 1 contends that “Jones treat[ed her] with hostility and harassed her as she quietly did her work.” Id. Immediately thereafter, Jane Doe 1 represents that she observed Jones and Renner discussing something in Renner's office. See id. “As a result, Jane Doe 1's supervisor told her that she was not allowed to work the event that evening even though the event was understaffed.” Id.

         On February 7, 2018, “Jane Doe 1 requested that she be demoted to [e]vent staff so that she would not have to interact with Jones anymore.” Id. ¶ 67. “Jane Doe 1 was also given the option of working from home.” Id. ¶ 68. Two days later, Jane Doe 1 met with the GW's Assistant Director for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response for the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Community Engagement (“ODECE”), and reported “Jones'[s] sexual harassment and sexual assault of Jane Doe 5.” Id. ¶ 99. On March 6, 2018, Jane Doe 1 learned that her complaint to the ODECE would be treated as “student-on-student harassment, ” “rather than ‘staff-on-staff harassment' even though the harassment was occurring in the IIEP workplace.” Id. ¶¶ 99, 105.

         On April 2, 2018, Jane Doe 1 contends that she was constructively discharged, having been “forced to resign out of her fear of interacting with Jones in the IIEP office.” Id. ¶ 69.

         2. Jane Doe 2

         In May 2017, “Jones [allegedly] asked Jane Doe 2 to come over to his apartment.” Id. ¶ 26. According to Jane Doe 2, “[o]nce there, Jones ignored Jane Doe 2's objections [to sexual activity] and sexually assaulted her.” Id. “Jane Doe 2 [contends that although she] tried to push Jones off of her . . . [and] told him to stop multiple times, . . . Jones raped Jane Doe 2.” Id.

         Throughout the fall of 2017, “Jones [allegedly] continued to torment Jane Doe 2.” Id. ¶ 31. On one occasion, Jane Doe 2 contends that Jones told her that he would “never stick[ his] dick into the pool of IIEP ever again.” Id. Jones also purportedly “told Jane Doe 2's faculty supervisors and her coworkers” that he and Jane Doe 2 had sex. Id. ¶ 33.

         On February 2, 2018, Jane Does 2 and 3 met with Renner. See id. ¶ 97. “Jane Doe 2 told Renner . . . that Jones had raped her” and two other girls in the IIEP office. Id. Jane Doe 2 “also gave Renner a written statement that detailed Jones'[s] sexually hostile conduct and misogynistic comments in the workplace.” Id. Renner responded that he would “talk to the Title IX office to see what he should do.” Id. Renner then “recommended that Jane Doe 2 work from home.” Id. On February 11, 2018, Jane Doe 2 observed Jones in the office and emailed Renner, stating, “I was wondering if we could have a follow-up meeting. Let me know if you are free soon.” Id. ¶ 100. However, Renner purportedly never responded to Jane Doe 2's email. See id. Instead, during Jane Doe 2's professional development meeting with Renner on February 23, 2018, she contends that “Renner told [her] that to ‘follow-up' on her complaint about Jones, there was nothing [he] could do because his ‘hands were tied.'” Id. ¶ 101. Jane Doe 2 represents that she requested that Renner fire Jones, but Renner repeatedly responded that his “hands were tied” and that “Jane Doe 2 had to file an ‘official complaint with the Title IX office.'” Id. According to Jane Doe 2, she “complained that it was unacceptable that . . . she had to work beside the man [who] raped her.” Id. Renner allegedly concluded the meeting by “stating that Jane Doe 2 should work from home and go to therapy.” Id.

         On March 7, 2018, Jane Doe 2 informed Renner in writing that “four female employees ‘and I want to discuss how we feel unsafe in the office.'” Id. ¶ 106. Two days later, the plaintiffs, including Jane Doe 2, met with Renner. See id. ¶ 107.

During this meeting, each of the [p]laintiffs detailed the sexual harassment they were exposed to in the workplace, Jones'[s] sexual assaults on female staff members, Jones'[s] demeaning treatment of the female staff members, and Jones'[s] threat to kill a female staff member. The [p]laintiffs also read written statements prepared by two other girls. The [p]laintiffs told Renner that at least 11 female staff members had been impacted by Jones'[s] hostile conduct. The [p]laintiffs told Renner that they felt unsafe working with Jones.

Id. Renner allegedly responded that “he needed to utilize the ‘correct mechanisms' to terminate Jones, ” but when pressed by the plaintiffs, he could not identify the “mechanisms.” Id. Renner allegedly “stated that he did not want to ask Jones to work from home, ” id., and “instead asked the [p]laintiffs to work from home, ” id. Jane Does 1, 3, 4, and 5 provide consistent accounts of what Jane Doe 2 said transpired at the March 9, 2017 meeting with Renner.

         “On March 26, 2018, Jane Doe 2 [contends that she] was constructively discharged by GW.” Id. ¶ 35. In her resignation letter to Renner, Jane Doe 2 wrote that “[w]orking in the recent months at [the] IIEP has been a terrible experience, ” that the IIEP's “inability or unwillingness to protect [her] . . . from a clear and imminent threat has been disheartening, ” and that “after putting forth so many months of fighting for my safety and seeing little to nothing happening, I am no longer willing to work under the [IIEP].” Id. ¶ 109.

         The next day, Jane Doe 2 received a phone call from the Director of the IIEP, Maggie Chen. Id. ¶ 110. Director Chen allegedly told Jane Doe 2 that she “asked Renner what he did to fire Jones, and Renner said ‘nothing.'” Id. According to Director Chen, after she requested human resources to fire Jones, human resources responded that “this is not a [human resources] issue, it is a Title IX issue.” Id. Director Chen also “complained to GW's Title IX [o]ffice[, ] which stated ‘[it] would need formal complaints from each of the victims,' and that it could not take any action until after the judiciary council completed its investigation.” Id. Finally, Director Chen “complained to GW's Office of the General Counsel, which reiterated that the complaints would need to be processed by the Title IX [o]ffice.” Id. When Director Chen indicated that “she had ‘cause to terminate [Jones],' the General Counsel's Office said ‘that's not fair to Jones.'” Id. Director Chen “was told that until [Jones] ha[d] his due process, there [was] nothing [she] could do.” Id. (first alteration in original). Director Chen also allegedly informed Jane Doe 2 “that there is ‘absolutely no training' on sexual harassment.” Id.

         “On April 2, 2018, Jane Doe 2 met with Jen Alexander-Smith from the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities at GW (‘Student Rights Office').” Id. ¶ 113. According to Jane Doe 2, “[t]he Student Rights Office stated that it had learned of the [p]laintiffs' complaints on March 31, 2018.” Id. The Student Rights Office allegedly stated that “it is prohibited from becoming involved in [workplace] problems, ” and that it has “no policies in place regarding student problems in the workplace” and “absolutely no policy for harassment of students in the workplace.” Id. “The Student Rights Office further admitted that it had never received any complaint from [the] Title IX [office] or Renner about Jones'[s] misconduct.” Id. The Student Rights Office stated “that according to [the] Title IX [office], it had not yet started an investigation because it had not received a ‘formal' complaint.” Id.

         3. Jane Doe 3

         According to Jane Doe 3, a number of her coworkers confided in her about Jones's “sexual misconduct and inappropriate conduct in the office, ” id. ¶ 77, and in her position as Digital Communications and Social Media Team Lead, Jane Doe 3 contends that she became aware that Jones had assaulted three female employees in the office, see id. Jane Doe 3 represents that she received two written complaints in a suggestion box about Jones's “sexually hostile behavior.” Id. One female employee purportedly complained to Jane Doe 3 that “Jones had been asking underage female workers to ‘get drunk' with him after work.” Id. Jane Doe 3 also allegedly received complaints “that Jones had been discussing his sexual encounter with Jane Doe 2 [ ] in the IIEP office.” Id. ¶ 78.

         Jane Doe 3 contends that she filed at least four formal complaints with her supervisors about Jones's sexual harassment and assaults. See id. ¶ 79. On February 2, 2018, Jane Does 2 and 3 met with Renner to discuss Jones's conduct toward Jane Doe 2. See id. ¶ 97. On February 28, 2018, Jane Doe 3 met with Renner and told him that “she believed Jane Doe 2 would be quitting [the] IIEP because [Renner] would not take action in response to her complaint.” Id. ¶ 103. Renner allegedly responded that “his ‘hands were tied'” and “it was ‘a difficult situation.'” Id.

         On March 30, 2018, Jane Doe 3 “encountered Renner on GW's campus.” Id. ¶ 112. According to Jane Doe 3, “Renner stated that he was ‘very concerned that [the plaintiffs'] group chat with the eleven [victims] was spreading misinformation and that [the plaintiffs] were making the situation worse.'” Id.

         4. Jane Doe 4

         On September 30, 2017, Jane Doe 4 was at a nightclub with other IIEP staff when “Jones [allegedly] bought . . . Jane Doe 4[] an excessive number of alcoholic drinks.” Id. ¶ 43. Later, Jones allegedly asked Jane Doe 4 to come back to his apartment, and because he “was older than her and her boss at [the] IIEP, [Jane Doe 4 contends that she] felt she had no choice.” Id. “At Jones'[s] apartment, Jane Doe 4 slipped in and out of consciousness, as she was [ ] grossly intoxicated.” Id. According to While Jane Doe 4, while she was “inebriated and unresponsive [ ], Jones took off her clothes, climbed on top of her[, ] and raped [her].” Id. She also contends that “[t]he next morning, she awoke to Jones, again, attempting to rape her.” Id.

         After purportedly raping Jane Doe 4, the Amended Complaint represents that “Jones bragged in the workplace about his encounter to Jane Doe 4's coworkers.” Id. ¶ 44. “He [allegedly] made humiliating, derogatory sexual comments about Jane Doe 4 to her coworkers and the faculty members working in the IIEP.” Id. Purportedly, Jones “publicly ranked Jane Doe 4 among the other females in the office that he had victimized.” Id. ¶ 44.

         5. Jane Doe 5

         In April 2017, “Jane Doe 5 [represents that she] attended a party in a GW dorm room that was hosted by her IIEP coworker.” Id. ¶ 90. When the party ended, Jones allegedly “pressured Jane Doe 5 to leave with him, ” and “Jones began [to] assault [her] in the car.” Id. According to Jane Doe 5, when she arrived at Jones's house, “she ‘blacked out' and lost consciousness. She then came in and out of consciousness as Jones aggressively raped her.” Id.

         B. Renner's Alleged Conduct

         Renner, the individual purportedly “authorized to receive complaint[s] regarding workplace misconduct and [to] institute corrective measures, ” id. ¶ 57, allegedly “was also involved in his own workplace misconduct.” Id. ¶ 61. He purportedly made misogynistic and “derogatory comments about women in the workplace, such as disparaging ‘women's studies.'” Id. ¶ 62. In addition, Renner allegedly tried to cover up Jones's misconduct by “brush[ing] aside the complaints made by [the p]laintiffs and others” rather than “report[ing] Jones to the police or to the University” because Jones and Renner were allegedly “close friends.” Id. ¶ 60.

         Moreover, Renner would allegedly touch Jane Doe 1 and 3. According to Jane Doe 1, during her employment, on multiple occasions, “Renner touch[ed] the small of Jane Doe 1's back while in the workplace, without her permission.” Id. ¶ 61. Renner would also allegedly subject Jane Doe 3 to sexually hostile conduct. See id. ¶ 73. He would purportedly “touch Jane Doe 3's arm or shoulder” while walking beside her, and while Jane Doe 3 was working at her computer, “Renner [would] frequently reach[ ] over [ ] Jane Doe 3 to type on her keyboard while she remain[ed] seated.” Id. He also allegedly “routinely commented on [] Jane Doe 3's clothing in the office.” Id. The plaintiffs also contend that “Renner gave preferential treatment to Jane Doe 3's co-team leader, ” id., and “would dismiss Jane Doe 3's recommendations in front of the staff, and instead request input from [her] male co-team leader, ” id. ¶ 75. On one occasion, “during Jane Doe 3's professional development meeting, Renner [allegedly] asked Jane Doe 3 when she intended to get married and have kids.” Id. ¶ 76. He also allegedly “asked several female employees this question during their professional development meetings.” Id.

         C. This Lawsuit

         On May 10, 2018, the plaintiffs filed their Complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. On June 13, 2018, the defendants removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), (c) (2018). See Notice of Removal (Corrected) at 2-4. Thereafter, the defendants filed their motion to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim. See generally Defs.' Mot. Instead of opposing the motion, the plaintiffs amended their Complaint. See generally Am. Compl. The defendants have now moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) on the basis that the plaintiffs failed to obtain leave to sue using pseudonyms. See Defs.' 2d Mem. at 13-15. The plaintiffs subsequently filed their motion seeking leave from the Court “to continue to proceed anonymously as Jane Does 1-5 throughout the remainder of this case.” Pls.' Mem. at 1. These last two filings are the subject of this memorandum opinion.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Motion For Leave To Proceed with Pseudonyms

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10(a) requires that a complaint state all of the names of the parties. Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(a). “Disclosure of the parties' identities furthers the public interest in knowing the facts surrounding judicial proceedings.” Doe v. Cabrera, 307 F.R.D. 1, 4 (D.D.C. 2014) (Walton, J.) (quoting Nat'l Ass'n of Waterfront Emp'rs v. Chao, 587 F.Supp.2d 90, 99 (D.D.C. 2008)).

The “rare dispensation” of allowing parties to proceed pseudonymously is only justified in the “critical case, ” or the “unusual case, ” . . . include[ing] those in which “identification creates a risk of retaliatory physical or mental harm, ” those in which “anonymity is necessary to preserve privacy in a matter of [a] sensitive and highly personal nature, ” and those in which the anonymous party would be compelled to admit criminal behavior or be subject to punishment by the state.

Qualls v. Rumsfeld, 228 F.R.D. 8, 10-11 (D.D.C. 2005); accord W. Coast Prods., Inc. v. Does 1- 5829, 275 F.R.D. 9, 12 (D.D.C. 2011) (“[F]ederal courts generally allow parties to proceed anonymously . . . when anonymity is necessary to protect a person from harassment, injury, ridicule, or personal embarrassment.”). Personal embarrassment is normally not a sufficient basis for permitting anonymous litigation. See Chao, 587 F.Supp.2d at 100.

         “[I]t is within the discretion of the district court to grant the ‘rare dispensation' of anonymity.” United States v. Microsoft Corp., 56 F.3d 1448, 1464 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (quoting James v. Jacobson, 6 F.3d 233, 238 (4th Cir. 1993)). In exercising this discretion, the Court has “a judicial duty to inquire into the circumstances of particular cases to determine whether the dispensation is warranted.” Id. “As part of this inquiry, the court should take into account the risk of unfairness to the opposing party, as well as the customary and constitutionally-embedded presumption of openness in judicial proceedings.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). “[I]t is the litigant seeking to proceed under pseudonym that bears the burden to demonstrate a legitimate basis for proceeding in that manner, ” Qualls, 228 F.R.D. at 13, and “motions to proceed under pseudonym should be granted sparingly, ” Doe v. U.S. Dep't of State, Civ. Action No. 1:15-01971, 2015 WL 9647660, at *2 (D.D.C. Nov. 3, 2015).

         B. Motion to Dismiss

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests whether a complaint “state[s] a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “To survive a motion to dismiss [under Rule 12(b)(6)], a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw [a] reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         In evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), “the Court must construe the complaint in favor of the plaintiff, who must be granted the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.” Hettinga v. United States, 677 F.3d 471, 476 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted). While the Court must “assume [the] veracity” of any “well-pleaded factual allegations” in a complaint, conclusory allegations “are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Thus, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Also, the Court need not accept “legal conclusions cast as factual allegations, ” or “inferences drawn by [the] plaintiff if those inferences are not supported by the facts set out in the complaint.” Hettinga, 677 F.3d at 476. The Court “may consider only the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint[, ] and matters of which [the Court] may take judicial notice.” E.E.O.C. v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. The Plaintiffs' Motion For Leave To Proceed with the Pseudonyms Jane Does 1 to 5

         Although the District of Columbia Circuit has not yet adopted a test for evaluating a request to proceed pseudonymously, members of this Court have adopted a five-factor test “in balancing the interests involved.” See, e.g., Sandberg v. Vincent, 319 F.Supp.3d 422, 426 (D.D.C. 2018); see also Roe v. Bernabei & Wachtel PLLC, 85 F.Supp.3d 89, 96 (D.D.C. 2015); Cabrera, 307 F.R.D. at 5; Chao, 587 F.Supp.2d at 99. These factors are:

[(1)] [w]hether the justification asserted by the requesting party is merely to avoid the annoyance and criticism that may attend any litigation or is to preserve privacy in a matter of a sensitive and highly personal nature; [(2)] whether identification poses a risk of retaliatory physical or mental harm to the requesting party or even more critically, to innocent non-parties; [(3)] the ages of the persons whose privacy interests are sought to be protected; [(4)] whether the action is against a governmental or private party; and [(5)] the risk of unfairness to the opposing party from allowing an action against it to proceed anonymously.

Sandberg, 319 F.Supp.3d at 426 (quoting James, 6 F.3d at 238). The Court will address each factor in turn in assessing whether to grant the plaintiffs' motion.

         1. Whether the Use of Pseudonyms Will Preserve Privacy in a Matter of a Sensitive and Highly Personal Nature

         The plaintiffs maintain that “[b]ecause this case involves claims of multiple sexual assaults, involving multiple plaintiffs, this case is sensitive and highly personal in nature for the [p]laintiffs.” Pls.' Mem. at 3 (quoting Cabrera, 307 F.R.D. at 6). The defendants respond that this case does not involve a matter of a sensitive and highly personal nature for two reasons: (1) “Jane Does 1 and 3 do not allege that they were sexually assaulted” or that Jones “ever touched them improperly, or threatened them, ” Defs.' Opp'n at 6; and (2) although the remaining plaintiffs have alleged they have been raped, this lawsuit does not involve a “brutal rape” involving “graphic details, ” id. at 7.

         As an initial matter, the Court agrees with the defendants that “[s]exual harassment is not typically considered a matter so highly personal as to warrant proceeding by pseudonym.” Bernabei, 85 F.Supp.3d at 96. However, although Jane Does 1 and 3 were subjected to sexual harassment and not assault, the remaining plaintiffs do in fact allege that they were sexually assaulted. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 26, 43, 90. Therefore, because courts generally allow a plaintiff to litigate under a pseudonym in cases containing allegations of sexual assault on the basis that they concern highly sensitive and personal subjects, see Cabrera, 307 F.R.D. at 5; Doe v. De Amigos, LLC, Civ. Action No. 11-1755 (ABJ), 2012 WL 13047579, at *2 (D.D.C. Apr. 30, 2012), the need for anonymity is particularly great in this case because the IIEP is a “small” office, Pls.' Mem. at 3, and “[d]isclosure of the identity of any of the [p]laintiffs would necessarily lead to the disclosure of the identities [of all the plaintiffs], ” id.

         The defendants claim that because “all five [p]laintiffs are already well known in the IIEP office through [the p]laintiffs' own communications at meetings and on social media, ” Defs' Opp'n at 7, “the use of the true names of Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 3 in the lawsuit would [not] allow anyone to better guess the true identities of the other [p]laintiffs beyond the information already available, ” id. However, because the “extent of [these] disclosures does not reel in the public at large, ” Cabrera, 307 F.R.D. at 9 n.14 (citation omitted), the Court must “grant[ ] anonymity to protect against [public] disclosure” and preserve the privacy of sexual assault victims. De Amigos, LLC, 2012 WL 13047579, at *2.

         The defendants also contend that “this case is unlike Bernabei because that was a suit against the alleged perpetrator of a brutal rape, in which the complaint included ‘highly personal' matter[s] such as ‘graphic details of the alleged rape, including multiple references to the plaintiff's genitalia and her hospital examination, '” Defs.' Opp'n at 7, while “the claims in this case are not made against the alleged perpetrator . . .; no similarly ‘graphic' details of the alleged sexual assaults are pled in the [Amended] Complaint; and the primary issue is not liability for the alleged rapes themselves, ” id. at 7-8. Although the Court acknowledges that the plaintiffs' Amended Complaint “is not against [their] assailant . . . but is instead at least one step removed” from the alleged incidents of sexual assault, Bernabei, 85 F.Supp.3d at 97, the Court agrees with the plaintiffs that it is “anticipated that the details of the sexual assaults will be relevant to this lawsuit in light of [the p]laintiffs' Title IX claims, ” Pls.' Reply at 2; but see Bernabei, 85 F.Supp.3d at 97, and nevertheless recognizes the “strong [public] interest in protecting the identities of sexual assault victims so that other victims will not be deterred from reporting such crimes, ” De Amigos, LLC, 2012 WL 13047579, at *2; see also Doe v. Penzato, Civ. Action No. 10-5154 (MEJ), 2011 WL 1833007, at *3 (N.D. Cal. May 13, 2011) (“Given [the p]laintiff's allegations of sexual assault, the Court finds that ...


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