ST. LOUIS (Legal Newsline) - Plaintiffs who sued the dating website Ashley Madison must decide whether to pursue their claims by revealing personal and racy information.
U.S. District Court Judge John Ross, of the Eastern District of Missouri, has refused the plaintiffs' request to use pseudonyms in the class-action lawsuit against Ashley Madison.
Almost all of the cases against the dating site, which has the slogan, "Life is short. Have an affair," were filed by John Doe.
Ashley Madison provides ways for users interested in having affair to contact one another. In 2015, hackers under the name "Impact Team" gained access to Ashley Madison users’ private information from the website, even after some members had paid extra for the "full delete removal" option on the site.
This information included credit card numbers and addresses of current and previous users.
Approximately 40 users who were affected by the hacking filed a class action lawsuit, but whether a plaintiff reveals his or her name could affect the recovery that they receive. Unnamed members will still receive compensation, but those who are named will receive higher compensation for putting themselves on the line for the class action suit.
“Named class members, who are the only ones present at any sort of settlement conference or mediation, will typically deem the appropriate amount, that is, the heightened recovery, for the named class members," Jason Bonk, a member of the Cozen O’Connor law firm, told Legal Newsline.
"That can be anywhere from a small amount, or, in this case, it could be a larger amount, but that’s yet to be seen. It could be a large amount simply because of the tension and the strenuousness of the subject matter."
The lawsuit also addresses Ashley Madison’s creation of fake female accounts on the site to make men believe there were more women active on the website than there actually were.
Though revealing their identities could cause privacy violations, which are generally protected by the law, the judge ultimately ruled against the plaintiffs, due to the public interest involved in the case.
“There are certain categories that courts will typically allow pseudonyms to be used in a lawsuit," Bonk said. "One is assault or battery, sexual abuse…there’s suing a government, or if it involves a minor. Those are the main categories. But these are people that made choices; they weren’t victims, necessarily,”
Bonk also mentioned that the Impact Team had originally obtained the information and then threatened to reveal it if the site were shut down, and did not immediately take action to reveal members.
“There was a gap when hackers said they had the information and when they leaked it," Bonk said. "If I were an Ashley Madison user, that’s the moment I would change my credit card; they had their opportunity.
"It all comes down to reputation. If the court says, ‘We’re going to tell you that you have to disclose your name,’ and then these people just fall to the wayside, suggests to me that the court made the right decision.”
Some who were exposed in the hacking have had marital or professional trouble, or even committed suicide.
Only eight plaintiff members have been able to fully sue the company, because they were willing to use their real names. Other plaintiffs have until June 3 to decide to reveal their names or settle for less of a payout if the class wins the case.