Federal Judge Says No to Anonymity for Health Care Workers Suing Over COVID Vaccine

By Alice Giordano
Alice Giordano
Alice Giordano
Alice Giordano is a former news correspondent for The Boston Globe, Associated Press, and New England bureau of The New York Times.
June 8, 2022 Updated: June 8, 2022

A federal judge ruled late last month that a group of Maine health care workers who have a lawsuit challenging the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate pending before the U.S. Supreme Court cannot remain anonymous.

In a May 31 ruling, Maine Chief U.S. District Judge Jon Levy gave the nine workers in Maine, mostly nurses, until June 7 to file an amended complaint identifying themselves by name for the suit to continue.

The ruling was in response to a motion filed by Maine media asking for the court to order the disclosure of the names of the health care workers challenging Maine’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers providers in the state.

“The Plaintiffs have not shown that their fear of severe harm if their identities are revealed is objectively reasonable,” Levy wrote in his ruling.

He said he did not doubt the sincerity of the workers’ concerns but that “their privacy interests have not been shown to outweigh the public interest” in knowing their identities.

Attorney Mat Staver, the founder of Liberty Counsel, told The Epoch Times that he believes the court should have weighed the heavily-negative media coverage the workers have already received as anonymous plaintiffs.

“The Maine media just wants a story,” said Staver, “there’s no story in their names. To reveal their identities will be to reveal their private medical conditions and concerns, and that’s not in the public interest.”

Staver said that some of the nasty public comments the newspapers have allowed on their websites have bordered on being threatening.

Staver also said the media is using double standards since they don’t file for the names of plaintiffs in abortion rights cases, which he pointed out is currently as much of a legal hot button issue as government-mandated COVID-19 vaccines.

Liberty Counsel filed an appeal of Levy’s decision on behalf of the Maine health care workers and, on June 6, filed a motion to stay the judge’s order pending the hearing of its appeal.

In its motion, the Maine media argued that fear of public reaction was insufficient for health care workers to overcome the “constitutionally-embedded presumption of openness” in court cases.

The media group, which includes the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, Sun Journal, and the Washington-DC based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, argued that religious and medical issues asserted by plaintiffs are insufficient to constitute a “substantial privacy interest.”

“As other courts have held in similar COVID-related litigation, opposition to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine (based on religious beliefs or not) is insufficient to overcome the presumption against pseudonymous litigation,” the media group argued.

The Maine case is similar to a pending U.S. Supreme Court case filed by a group of New York health care workers. However, the New York health care workers continue to have their identities protected by the court.
Last year, a Maine court granted the plaintiffs anonymity in the Maine lawsuit after the workers argued that disclosing their identities would subject them to potential harassment.

One of the health care workers in the suit is a Maine nurse who was previously granted an exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine for breastfeeding reasons. She was recently denied a renewal of the same exemption after being asked by the state to fill out its new form for exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine.