Sorority sisters revealed in lawsuit
Move comes after judge denies requests for student anonymity
CASPER — Six sorority sisters at the University of Wyoming chose Thursday to move forward with their lawsuit to remove a transgender student from Kappa Kappa Gamma after a judge twice denied their requests for anonymity.
One sorority member left the lawsuit, but the remaining plaintiffs amended their complaint to include their names following an order from U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson last week.
They had sought to remain anonymous, citing safety and privacy concerns. But the judge decided those concerns did not rise to the level where anonymity was warranted.
The lawsuit identified the plaintiffs as UW students Jaylyn Westenbroek, Hannah Holtmeier, Allison Coghan, Grace Choate, Madeline Ramar and Megan Kosar.
None of the sorority members are from Wyoming.They hail from Colorado,Kansas, Oklahoma,Nebraska and Virginia.
The new court filing also names the transgender student they aim to bar as Artemis Langford.
Johnson gave the group of UW sorority members until Thursday to amend their suit and reveal their names.
The six sorority sisters sued the Kappa Kappa Gamma’s parent organization, its president and the school’s first transgender sorority member late last month in a closely watched case. They alleged that the sorority did not follow its bylaws and rules, failed to uphold its mission, breached its housing contract with members, and misled them by admitting a transgender student.
The sorority members asked the courts to remove the transgender student and ban any “man” from joining a sorority, while also seeking monetary damages.
They filed the lawsuit anonymously, using the pseudonyms “Jane Doe” for the original seven members and “Terry Smith '' for Langford.
The group only included Langford in the lawsuit because the sorority members are attempting to remove her from the sorority, according to the complaint.
Alongside the lawsuit, the lawyers for the group, John Knepper and Cassie Craven, submitted a request asking the courts to grant anonymity in the case. They argued that students on both sides of the lawsuit faced safety and privacy concerns if their names become public in court proceedings, especially amid intense statewide and national media coverage and contention around transgender issues.
They referenced an incident last year when a Laramie church elder targeted the transgender student with a sign in UW’s student union before appearing at the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority house to speak with the transgender student and members. Police were later called, and they issued the student a trespassing warning.
“The sensitive facts involved in this case, as well as the strong likelihood that the nature of this lawsuit will result in threats and harassment from third-parties against individual students and their families, merit this Court’s approval,” the attorneys wrote.
Johnson denied their motion.
He concluded that courts only grant anonymity under exceptional circumstances and their request did not meet the bar for “matters of a highly sensitive and personal nature” and “real danger of physical harm.”
The sorority members could face “criticism, ostracism, and vitriol,” but they opened themselves to that by filing a lawsuit in federal court, Johnson found.
He judged that the public interest in the case ultimately outweighed the sorority members’ privacy concerns.
“The bottom line is this. Lawsuits are public events, and the public, especially here, has an important interest in access to legal proceedings. Plaintiffs may not levy serious accusations without standing behind them,” Johnson wrote. “Our system of dispute resolution does not allow Plaintiffs to cower behind an anonymity shield, especially one that is so rarely bestowed in this District or Circuit.”
Knepper and Craven appealed, again asking Johnson to allow the lawsuit to proceed anonymously. They cited recent national and state events to bolster their case, including the alleged attack of a swimmer by transgender rights activists at San Francisco State University, a Wyoming lawmaker’s meme that was criticized for its violent overtones calling for the defense of transgender people and death threats against supporters and critics of transgender issues. The attorneys insisted that the sorority members faced particular danger because the address of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority house had been revealed online and people knew where they lived.
“If the Court’s standard for anonymity is that Plaintiffs must wait for personalized death threats and harassment before they can become anonymous, then the Court has eliminated protection for all litigants,” they wrote.
In his second ruling denying anonymity on April 14, Johnson lamented that the sorority members did not show they faced real and “personal” danger and instead relied on the premise that they may face harassment and threats.
“I yearn for the day where litigants seek their courts unburdened by the mere possibility of physical reprisal,” he wrote.
Johnson again decided that the public interest outweighed the concerns of the sorority members in a case that could decide the legal standard on issues of gender identity and transgender rights.
“Plaintiffs have chosen to level accusations of impropriety against Defendants. They must now shoulder the burden of those accusations and walk in the public eye,” he wrote.