Do You Need to Know Someone’s Full Name Before You Can Sue Them?

After a police officer pressured a woman for oral sex in a suburb of Chicago, including harassing her at her place of work, the woman filed a lawsuit against the police officer and Cook County. For obvious reasons, she asked the court to allow her to remain anonymous, filing the lawsuit under the name Jane Doe v. Cook County. Unfortunately, Doe only knows the first name of the officer who sexually harassed her: Kevin. The sheriff’s office is also named as a defendant.

While the federal courts used to require every plaintiff to provide their full name in order to file a lawsuit, they have since allowed certain exceptions, including whether the plaintiff identifying themselves would result in “retaliatory physical or mental harm”.

There are plenty of well-documented cases of women receiving death threats when accusing men (especially men in power) of sexual harassment or assault. For example, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford needed to hire a security detail after receiving an onslaught of threats to her personal safety leading up to her testimony before the Senate. However, the judge assigned to the case of Jane Doe v. Cook County, U.S. Judge Charles Norgle, denied Doe’s request for anonymity.

This is in spite of the fact that, not only is there a long history of retaliation against women accusing men in power, but police officers in particular are notorious for closing their ranks and protecting their own, making the recent conviction of Derek Chauvin so remarkable. No one who knows that history could be surprised by Doe’s request for anonymity or think it unreasonable.

However, Judge Nogrle still denied her request for anonymity because he claimed she failed to provide “specific” information demonstrating she would face retaliation if her name were to be made public. Essentially, he wants to wait until she has already received threats and/or further harassment (the kind that can be proven, not the “he said/she said” kind) before granting her anonymity. That gives Kevin and his coworkers a lot of leeway to harass Doe (and other women) with impunity and no doubt they received that message loud and clear.

Although Judge Norgle agreed that Doe’s allegations were sensitive in nature, and that making her name public could make other plaintiffs in her situation hesitate to seek justice, he cited her lack of “important information” as a reason for denying her request for anonymity. Whether that “important information” is merely the lack of Kevin’s last name or the lack of recorded conversations with Kevin is not specified.

Either way Judge Norgle’s 16-page decision shows the continued lack of understanding of the hurdles facing women who attempt to seek justice after they have been sexually harassed and/or assaulted, particularly when seeking justice against men who hold positions of power. They may no longer be accused of being “scorned women” as famously happened to Anita Hill, but the thin veneer of “understanding” men now attempt to portray does nothing to cover their continued lack of any real understanding or willingness to understand.

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