Judge approves anonymity in Big Piney lawsuit
SUBLETTE COUNTY – With no response from Big Piney school district officials to a former student’s request to continue a lawsuit against them as “Jane Doe,” a federal magistrate judge ruled on July 13 that is how the civil suit will proceed.
The former Big Piney student, only identified as Jane Doe, and her parents, identified as Mary and James Doe, filed the civil rights lawsuit on May 26 against the Sublette County School District 9 Board of Trustees, former superintendent Steven Loyd, Big Piney High School principal Jeff Makelky and elementary principal Amy Bell, named the Title IX coordinator in 2020, according to court records.
The lawsuit alleges that Jane Doe’s civil rights were violated because of unwanted sexual attentions from a teacher and retaliation from others, and that Big Piney school officials did not properly investigate the claims or follow Title IX procedures to protect the student.
On June 22, the Does’ attorney responded to Wyoming’s U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson’s note that names had to be provided by seeking court permission.
The named defendants did not challenge the motion and no attorney has yet filed a notice of appearance on the school district’s behalf as of Wednesday, July 14.
Magistrate Judge Kelly Rankin issued his order that the civil suit can proceed anonymously as long as the Does’ names are provided to Big Piney school officials in a sealed document.
“This case is brought by a former student of Sublette County School District No. 9 and her parents,” the order says. “The former student alleges she was sexually harassed and assaulted by an employee of the school district. Her parents allege both they and their daughter were subjected to severe harassment and retaliation after reporting the incidents to the school district. (The Does) bring claims for severe physical and emotional trauma.”
Judge Rankin referred to previous “exceptional cases” that involve “highly sensitive or personal information … involving minors,” adding judges “consistently” use their discretion to permit proceedings under a pseudonym.
“A court must weigh the public interest against the plaintiff’s claimed right to privacy,” he wrote. “In weighing the two competing interests, the court finds (Jane Doe’s) right to privacy outweighs the public interest in maintaining open judicial proceedings in this case.”
It continues, “This issue can be readdressed, if needed, once defendants enter an appearance.”