In Jankowski v. Extendicare Homes, Inc., No. 11-2473 (3d Cir. July 7, 2011), the plaintiff filed an employment discrimination suit against his former employer. The parties reached a settlement agreement and the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania dismissed the suit pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a). Ten months later, the plaintiff moved to seal the entire record of the lawsuit. The plaintiff claimed that even though he had worked as a nurse for nearly twenty years and had a clean record and good qualifications, “‘no one will hire me after they do a background check and see that I filed a lawsuit against my former employer.’”
The District Court denied the plaintiff’s motion to seal, relying on In re Cendant Corp., 260 F.3d 183, 194 (3d Cir. 2001). In Cendant Corp., the Third Circuit ruled that the party seeking to seal a portion of the judicial record must prove that the need for secrecy outweighs the presumption in favor of access to judicial records, a burden that is even heavier in cases where a party seeks to seal the entire record.
The Third Circuit summarily affirmed the District Court’s denial of the plaintiff’s motion to seal, as it agreed with the lower court’s ruling that the plaintiff did not carry his heavy burden of overcoming the presumption of access. Although the plaintiff claimed that he had not been able to find a job for two and one-half years, the Third Circuit pointed out that he had not presented any evidence of having applied for nursing positions during that time. Moreover, the court, assuming that the plaintiff had applied for some positions, stressed that the plaintiff did not offer any evidence that he was qualified or why his applications were denied. In conclusion, the Third Circuit reasoned that the plaintiff’s broad allegations of harm, without any specific evidence as to a clearly defined and serious injury, were insufficient to justify sealing the record.