Public access to court documents involving The Tuxedo Club and a fired general manager outweighs the possible harm the records could have on the ex-employee looking for a job, a federal judge has ruled.
Martin A. Badinelli of Brookfield, Connecticut sued The Tuxedo Club in 2015, claiming that the Orange County country club wrongfully fired him. Last month, he asked federal court in White Plains to seal records in the lawsuit he filed against the club, to protect his privacy, reputation and earnings potential.“Protection against the possibility of future adverse impact on employment,” U.S. District Judge Vincent L. Briccetti said in a Dec. 6 opinion, “does not overcome the presumption of public access.”
The Tuxedo Club hired Badinelli as general manager in 2009.
But after Badinelli questioned the club’s liquor practices, he claimed in his 2015 lawsuit, he was fired. He alleged, for instance, that the club routinely served liquor to nonmembers at weddings it hosted, even though it did not have a catering license or a liquor license to sell to nonmembers.
Badinelli sued The Tuxedo Club for $750,000, alleging retaliation, age discrimination and breach of contract.
Briccetti ordered the parties to arbitrate the dispute. In April, they notified him that the dispute had been settled. The federal case was closed.
Last month, Badinelli asked the court to seal the case records. Any potential employer, his lawyer, William D. Frumkin, wrote, would check on him with an internet search and find the records.
“The existence of this litigation appears frequently” in internet search results, according to the motion to seal, “including as the very first search result in a Google search.”
“I have encountered a significant lack of response that can only be explained by potential employers learning of my litigation,” Badinelli declared in a separate filing. “My reputation and earning potential have been severely damaged by the record of this litigation on the internet.”
His lawyer also argued that the presumption of public access to court documents is strongest when the documents play a substantial role in determining the litigant’s substantial rights.
Here, Frumkin said, the federal court records are minimal because the dispute was handled mostly in private arbitration.
Badinelli and The Tuxedo Club also agreed to keep the arbitration documents confidential, and the club has not opposed the motion to seal the federal records.
Briccetti noted that there is a presumption of immediate public access to judicial documents, under common law and the First Amendment, but courts may consider competing factors such as privacy or the danger of impairing law enforcement.
But Badinelli chose federal court, Briccetti said. He should have considered the possibility of future impact when he filed the case, and since he had an arbitration agreement with the club he could have bypassed the court and taken the case directly to arbitration.
The motion to seal, he said, “is largely based on a desire to remove information from the internet.”
But the fact that Briccetti compelled arbitration is already a matter of public record that appears on the court docket, internet search engine results and in published law reports. It would be pointless, he said, to seal the records.
Badinelli argues that his interests in privacy, reputation and earning capacity outweigh the interest of public access to the court records, Briccetti summarized.
“The court,” he ruled, “is not persuaded.”