Will Court Unseal Puzder’s Divorce Records?

From labor disputes cases to labor and employment publications, for your research, you’ll find solutions on Bloomberg Law®. Protect your clients by developing strategies based on Litigation...

By Hassan A. Kanu

A Missouri state court will consider whether to unseal labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder’s divorce records next Tuesday, two days before his confirmation hearing on Feb. 16, the head of a government watchdog group told Bloomberg BNA.

A motion to seal the records was filed a day after President Donald Trump nominated Puzder, Dan Stevens, acting executive director of the Campaign for Accountability, said Feb. 9.

Lisa Fierstein, Puzder’s ex-wife, accused the millionaire nominee of domestic violence in the case but has retracted the allegations. “None of the events from so far in the past have anything to do with Andy’s kindness and generosity or his ability to serve this country,” Fierstein said in a Feb. 9 statement e-mailed to Bloomberg BNA by a Puzder spokesman.

Stevens says the records should be unsealed.

“This is a person that would be charged with overseeing the entire American workforce as head of the Department of Labor and the types of things alleged against him are the sort of things millions of workers face in the workplace,” he said. “Press reports have alluded to the fact that these records exist, but the details and full records haven’t been available. We thought the public deserved to know.”

Stevens’ organization filed a petition Feb. 2 arguing that a Missouri law that allows public inspection of divorce records “for good cause” applies to Puzder’s case because information about his prior acts “are of high interest and concern to the members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee” and “the public at large.”

The group said Puzder acknowledged that he is now a public figure with less of a right to privacy when he accepted the nomination because that came with a requirement to “provide the U.S. Senate with considerable information that otherwise would remain private.”

Judge Douglas Beach of the St. Louis County, Mo., circuit court will oversee the hearing on the petition next week. The nominee and his ex-wife could be asked to file responses to the petition.

Attempt to Hide Records?

Fierstein told Bloomberg BNA that she’s “disgusted” and “vehemently opposed to this unfair invasion” of her personal life. She pleaded for the group to stop pursuing the petition, saying it has caused her and her family an “inordinate amount of pain and suffering.”

Stevens disagreed that there’s an “unfair invasion.”

“My initial thoughts are that these records were public for a number of years, so I find it hard to square that with the idea that all of a sudden they should be made private,” he said.

A local law or regulation that mandates the sealing of divorce proceedings was passed after Puzder’s own case concluded, he said. “However, it seems someone tried to access the documents and then another motion was put in the docket to have them sealed” days after Puzder’s nomination, Stevens said.

“We certainly sympathize with Mrs. Fierstein and her family, but this is in no way about the personal issues she went through here,” Stevens said. “If confirmed, Puzder would be dictating policy for millions of workers and millions of American woman, so the stakes are very different now.”

Puzder has been mired in controversy since his nomination. His confirmation hearing was postponed four times before the HELP Committee placed it on the schedule.

To contact the reporter on this story: Hassan A. Kanu in Washington at hkanu@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

For More Information

A copy of the petition is available at http://src.bna.com/l69.

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Request Labor & Employment on Bloomberg Law