United States District Court, D. Colorado
ORDER DENYING STIPULATED MOTION TO SEAL CASE
S. Krieger Chief United States District Judge.
MATTER comes before the Court pursuant to the
parties' Stipulated Motion to Seal Case File
Plaintiff in this case asserts claims for violation of Title
VII of Civil Rights Act -hostile work environment, sexual
harassment, and termination in retaliation for the
Plaintiff's refusal to engage in a sexual relationship
with her supervisor. Early in the case all claims were
resolved in a confidential settlement agreement that is not
parties seek to “seal the case”, in other words
to restrict public access to all documents in the Court's
file. They contend that the documents refer to “alleged
conduct of a highly personal, sensitive, scandalous, and
prurient nature”, that the allegations are of socially
repugnant behavior, that even if unproven, could
“result in a cloud of impropriety”,
“diminish the public reputation and professional
standing of the parties”, and “have a
substantially detrimental financial impact on the
parties”. In addition, they contend that the matter is
like a divorce, in which the public has “no legitimate
reason to desire the information” in the court records.
“Due to the scant nature of the file”, they
further assert that there is no alternative means to sealing
the entire case file that will protect their interests.
reviewed the file, it appears that the only document that
arguably contains information that the parties characterize
as “highly personal, sensitive” etc. is the
Complaint (#1). In it the Plaintiff alleges
that her supervisor persuaded her to engage in sexual
relations. Although she initially complied, when she later
refused, he “began pressuring her by subjecting her to
a continuous barrage of unwelcome and offensive comments
about her appearance and her interactions with men.”
She complained to the Defendant's CEO, who refused to
take any action against the supervisor. Instead, the
Plaintiff's employment was terminated in retaliation for
complaining about the supervisor's conduct. The Complaint
does not contain descriptive details of the sexual relations
between the Plaintiff and her supervisor, nor does it quote
specific inflammatory statements made by the supervisor about
the Plaintiff. Beyond the Complaint, the file contains
documents that could prove embarrassing to the parties for
different reasons. For example, a related case brought by the
Plaintiff against her supervisor in state court is identified
at (#17) and a notice that the parties have
settled their dispute is found at (#20).
is a well-established common-law right of access to judicial
records. See Nixon v. Warner Commc'ns, Inc., 435
U.S. 589, 597 (1978). This right is premised upon the idea
that the public must retain the ability to evaluate a
court's decision-making process and ensure that it is
promoting justice by acting as a neutral arbitrator. See
United States v. McVeigh, 119 F.3d 806, 814 (10th Cir.
1997); see also United States v. Amodeo, 71 F.3d
1044, 1048 (2d Cir. 1995). Accordingly, there is a strong
presumption that documents filed in a lawsuit that are
pertinent to a judicial determination should be freely
available to the public. Colony Ins. Co. v. Burke,
68 F.2d 1222, 1242 (10th Cir. 2012). Access to court filings
may, however, be restricted if the public's right of
access is outweighed by interests favoring non-disclosure.
See McVeigh, 119 F.3d at 811. A party seeking to
restrict public access bears the burden to demonstrate
compelling reasons justifying restriction. See Eugene S.
v. Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of NJ, 663 F.3d 1124,
1135-36 (10th Cir. 2011); see also McVeigh, 119 F.3d
District, motions to restrict public access (whether
unopposed or contested) are governed by D.C. Colo. L. Civ. R.
7.2. A party must file a motion that: (1) identifies the
document for which restriction is sought; (2) addresses the
interest to be protected and why such interest outweighs the
presumption of public access; (3) identifies a clearly
defined and serious injury that would result if access is not
restricted; and (4) explains why no alternative to
restriction will suffice. See D.C. Colo. L Civ. R
7.2. The fact that the parties agree that public access
should be restricted is of no import, as the right of access
belongs to the public who, necessarily is not a party to such
an agreement. See D.C. Colo. L. Civ. R. 7.2(c)(2).
showing made by the parties to seal the entire case file is
unpersuasive. First, the contention that the entire case file
must be sealed when only the Complaint appears to contain the
allegations that the parties consider sensitive is illogical
and suggests that the true motivation for restricting access
to the case is the combination of the allegations in the
Complaint and the fact that the parties entered into a
confidential settlement agreement. In essence, the parties
seek to make their controversy disappear from public view.
on the Complaint, the Court understands that the allegations
may be embarrassing to the Plaintiff, her supervisor, and the
CEO of the Defendant. But the allegations are both general
and typical of this type of action; they are neither more
specific nor more graphic than necessary to state the claims.
Indeed, the only marginally scandalous allegation in the
Complaint is that the Plaintiff and her supervisor engaged in
sexual relations, but the generality of this allegation
without detail or elaboration keeps it from being prurient.
addition, the parties have not shown that they have a
protectable privacy interest or that any injury is likely to
occur if the file were not sealed. The Plaintiff knowingly
made the information in the Complaint public in order to seek
legal relief, and it is hard to understand the
Defendant's privacy interest because it is an entity. The
injury described is speculative.
the parties have not established that any right of privacy
that they may have outweighs the public's presumptive
right to (as compared to prurient interest in) the contents
of court files. An agreement between the parties to keep a
controversy or its settlement confidential is not sufficient
to abrogate the public's right to know what happens in
its courts. Although usually the public's right of access
stems from its supervision of judicial decision making, it
also extends to the identity of ...