A federal judge yesterday ruled that two Harvard undergraduates can continue their federal lawsuit that the school is ruining their futures and discriminating against them by effectively barring them from membership in male-only "finals" clubs in Harvard Square, but only if they drop their "John Doe" pseudonyms and reveal their true names.
In his ruling on a request by Harvard to dismiss the entire case, US District Court Judge Nathaniel Gorton wrote that the students and three fraternities had raised issues related to sex discrimination worth putting to a jury and that they had "standing" to do so because the policy directly affects the students and the fraternities' members. However, he dismissed two sororities as plaintiffs because they have no members at Harvard, and one upperclassman, because Harvard's attempt to get students out of single-sex organizations only applies to students who enrolled after him, so the policy doesn't harm him.
At issue is a Harvard policy, announced in 2016, that barred any members of off-campus single-sex clubs from leadership of on-campus organizations or from applying for certain Harvard-administered scholarship programs, including the Rhodes Scholarship, on the theory that single-sex organizations did not reflect 21st century society and that the all-male clubs were basically cesspools of misogyny and sexual assault.
Gorton summarized the student plaintiffs' arguments:
Plaintiffs assert that students who join unrecognized, single-sex organizations are harmed as a result of the Policy because they are forced to forego valuable leadership and post-graduate opportunities which can impact future professional opportunities. Those students have purportedly suffered emotional and reputational harm and embarrassment as a result of the stigma produced by Harvard’s alleged campaign against fraternities and sororities.
They also allege that Harvard is discriminating against them on the basis of sex, under both federal and state law, by limiting whom they can associate with. Harvard rebuts: Nope, because the ban applies equally to women.
After ruling that the fraternities and the two undergraduates could proceed with their case, he then ruled that the students would have to reveal themselves publicly - as he had told them in an order back in January:
There is a presumption in favor of disclosure in judicial proceedings and a party will be permitted to proceed pseudonymously only in the most exceptional cases. MacInnis v. Cigna Grp. Ins. Co. of Am., 379 F. Supp. 2d 89, 90 (D. Mass. 2005); Doe v. Bell Atl. Bus. Sys. Servs., Inc. 162, F.R.D. 418, 420, 422 (D. Mass. 1995) (explaining that cases involving "abortion, mental illness, personal safety, homosexuality, transsexuality and illegitimate or abandoned children in welfare cases" are the kinds of cases traditionally recognized as involving compelling privacy interests).
The Court, in the exercise of its discretion in such matters, finds that the students plaintiffs have not demonstrated that their claims implicate "such a compelling need for privacy as to outweight the rights of the defendants and the public to open proceedings". Bell Atl., 162 F.R.D. at 418, 420, 422. If plaintiffs have legitimate privacy conerns with respect to particular matters at issue in this case, the Court will consider motions to seal on document-by-document basis.
The ruling is the second in two days by a federal judge in a case involving allegations of discrimination by Harvard. On Thursday, another federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against Harvard and the Harvard Law Review after concluding the organizations that brought it had no standing and failed to make a legitimate case.