QUESTION: A former co-worker is suing my employer for employment discrimination. Her lawyer asked the company to turn over personnel files for several employees, including me, and she’s listed several of us as witnesses. A friend told me that anyone can look at information used in a court case – it’s public. I’m concerned that my personal information – my home address, phone number, social security number, health information and bank account — will not be protected and I’ll be the victim of identity theft.

ANSWER: Generally, courts favor “openness” in court records. However, courts recognize the need to protect the confidential personal information of parties to a lawsuit and non-parties – like you – who may become involved. Court rules require the redaction (covering up) of some personal information: Only the last four digits of a social security number may be shown, only the year of a person’s birth, and only the last four digits of a financial account number may appear in court documents available to the public.

Courts also allow attorneys to ask for protective orders, to ensure that confidential information is not available to the public. Protective orders are often used to protect sensitive information about non-party individuals. Materials that are commonly protected include medical and mental health records, tax records, confidential business information, and trade secrets. Protective orders can limit the people who are allowed to view the material and ensure that any confidential information is not circulated outside the litigation – on social media, for example.

When the information is very sensitive – the name of a minor child in a sexual assault case, for example – a court can order the record to be sealed. It will not become part of the file, and will only be available for review on court order.

The lawyers at GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC are experienced attorneys and are happy to answer your questions. Give us a call for a free initial telephone consultation about your legal needs. For consideration of your questions in our web column, please submit your inquiry on the “Contact Us” page of our website at

Information provided on “Ask the Lawyer” is current as of the date of publication. Laws and their interpretation are subject to change. The material provided through “Ask the Lawyer” is informational only; it should not be considered legal advice. Submitting a question to “Ask the Lawyer” does not create an attorney-client relationship between the person submitting the question and GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC. To view previous columns, please visit our website.

GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC, is a Troy based law firm representing clients from Warren, Sterling Heights, Ferndale, Royal Oak, Oak Park, Oakland and Wayne Counties and all of Southeast Michigan

By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
901 Wilshire Drive, Suite 550
Troy, MI 48084
(248) 247-3300
(248) 247-3310 facsimile