In a high profile case that has received national media attention, a federal judge has ruled that a student who was forced to leave Princeton University after a suicide attempt can remain anonymous during the discovery phase of his lawsuit against the school.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Peter Sheridan in the case W.P. vs. Princeton University overturns another judge’s ruling last year that the student should be identified.
Sheridan’s order will expire when discovery in the case is complete. Then he will decide again on the anonymity issue as it applies to motions and hearings. Princeton University lawyers can still move for modifications or exemptions from the confidentiality order. Discovery materials designated confidential and transcripts will remain so for five years, the judge ruled.
W.P. argued that the order should require persons contacted during the investigation or discovery phase of the case to sign confidentiality agreements, but Sheridan rejected that proposal.
Princeton University lawyers requested that as a condition of the order, W.P. not make disparaging comments outside of court proceedings about Princeton and administrators who are defendants in the case. Sheridan ruled against the university, finding that the request a would limit W. P.’s first amendment rights.
The New Yorker ran a piece about the case in December of 2014, “Should Suicidal Students Be Forced to Leave Campus?”
W.P. filed his lawsuit pro se in March 2014, naming the university and seven administrators as defendants. He said he was forced to withdraw from school for a year after taking an overdose of antidepressant pills, even though his doctor said his psychiatrist said he did not pose a threat to himself or others. His lawsuit claims Princeton University denied him a reasonable accommodation of his disability, and that conditions for his return that were more burdensome than for students who take a leave of absence due to a physical ailment. He appealed Princeton’s decision to ban him from classes, but the school denied the appeal. He then filed his federal lawsuit accusing Princeton of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Fair Housing Act amendments. He is now being represented by Theodore Howard of Wiley Rein in Washington, D.C., and Ruth Ann Lowenkron of Disability Rights New Jersey in Trenton.
Princeton University filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and opposed W.P.’s use of a pseudonym. School lawyers argued that W.P. wanted to “hurl his accusations from beneath a cloak of anonymity.”
W.P. argued that his desire for anonymity is based on suffering embarrassment when other people learn he has mental health issues.