California Supreme Court Issues Two Rulings Requiring Disclosure of Individual Public Employee Name, Salary and Other Employment Information under the California Public Records Act

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In International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, Local 21, AFL-CIO v. Superior Court of Alameda County filed August 27, 2007, the California Supreme Court held that the broadly based and widely accepted community norm and public policy applicable to government employee salary information is public disclosure, that public employees' names and salaries are excluded from the zone of financial privacy protection, and that such disclosure does not constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. Accordingly, the Court held that employee name and salary information is subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act ("Act"). The Court also held that the protections afforded peace officer personnel records under California Penal Code sections 832.7 and 832.8 do not extend to officer salary records, and that as a result, police officer name and salary information is generally subject to disclosure to the same extent as name and salary information of other public agency employees. However, the Court observed that Section 6255 of the Act could apply to exempt some police officer name and salary information from disclosure. For example, the Court suggested that the name and salary information of some under cover officers working large amounts of overtime could be exempt if disclosure would undermine the safety and efficacy of such officers.

The impact of this case is probably broader that its actual holding, and the records request on review by the Court, would suggest. The case arose from a request for name and gross salary information of City of Oakland peace officer and non-peace officer employees earning $100,000 or more per year. Nonetheless, the language and reasoning of the opinion is not limited to public employees earning $100,000 or more per year. Although the Court's holding may be partly dicta, it appears intended to announce a rule that virtually all public agency employee names and salaries are subject to disclosure, regardless of salary amount.

In a related case, filed the same day, the Court held in Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training v. Superior Court of Sacramento County that the names, employing departments, and hiring and termination dates of California peace officers listed in records of the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training are subject to disclosure under the Act. The Court concluded that the privilege against disclosure of peace officer personnel records established in California Penal Code sections 832.7 and 832.8 does not render the names, employing departments, and hiring and termination dates of peace officers exempt under the Act, because such information is not covered by any of the categories of protected information enumerated in California Penal Code section 832.8 (a)-(f).

For more information on these cases, please feel free to contact Eric Danly or Elizabeth Pianca.

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