Click for home page Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
John Cornyn
image
 

January 19, 2000

Mr. Jeffrey Horner
Bracewell & Patterson, L.L.P.
711 Louisiana Street, Suite 2900
Houston, Texas 77022-2781

OR2000-0167

Dear Mr. Horner:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 131385.

The LaMarque Independent School District (the "district"), which you represent, received a request for all records regarding a former employee. You state that the district has already released some of the requested information to the requestor. However, you claim that the remainder of the requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.026, 552.102, and 552.114 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.

Section 552.102(a) of the Government Code protects "information in a personnel file, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy . . . ." The scope of section 552.102(a) protection, however, is very narrow. See Open Records Decision No. 336 (1982). See also Attorney General Opinion JM-36 (1983). The test for section 552.102(a) protection is the same as that for information protected by common-law privacy under section 552.101: the information must contain highly intimate or embarrassing facts about a person's private affairs such that its release would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person and the information must be of no legitimate concern to the public. Hubert v. Harte-Hanks Tex. Newspapers, Inc., 652 S.W.2d 546, 550 (Tex. App.--Austin 1983, writ ref'd n.r.e.).

The submitted information generally pertains to the performance and job functions of a public employee. There is a legitimate public interest in the work behavior of a public employee and how he or she performs job functions. Open Records Decision Nos. 470 at 4 (1987) (public has legitimate interest in job performance of public employees), 444 (1986) (employee information about qualifications, disciplinary action and background not protected by privacy), 423 at 2 (1984) (scope of public employee privacy is narrow), 405 (1983) (employee performance audit not protected by privacy), 284 (1981) (letters of recommendation not protected by privacy). Therefore, most of the submitted information does not fall under common law privacy, and therefore must be released to the requestor.

However, a portion of the submitted documents concerns allegations of sexual harassment brought against the former employee. In Morales v. Ellen, 840 S.W.2d 519 (Tex. App.--El Paso 1992, writ denied), the court addressed the applicability of the common law privacy doctrine to files regarding an investigation of allegations of sexual harassment. The investigation files in Ellen contained individual witness statements, an affidavit by the individual accused of the misconduct responding to the allegations, and conclusions of the board of inquiry that conducted the investigation. Ellen, 840 S.W.2d at 525. The court ordered the release of the affidavit of the person under investigation and the conclusions of the board of inquiry, stating that the public's interest was sufficiently served by the disclosure of such documents. Id. In concluding, the Ellen court held that "the public did not possess a legitimate interest in the identities of the individual witnesses, nor the details of their personal statements beyond what is contained in the documents that have been ordered released." Id.

According to Ellen, the public has a legitimate interest in documents that adequately summarize sexual harassment allegations and the results of investigations into those allegations, but not in the identities or detailed statements of the victim and witnesses. See id; see also Open Records Decision Nos. 473 (1987), 470 (1987) (public has legitimate interest in job performance of public employees). You do not indicate that the documents that the district already released to the requestor contained a summary of the sexual harassment allegations and the results of the district's investigation into the allegations. Consequently, we must assume that the district has not yet released any summary of the allegations or the investigation results. Accordingly, we find that there currently remains a legitimate public interest in the information regarding the sexual harassment allegations, and therefore, the district must release it to the requestor. However, section 552.102 in conjunction with Ellen requires the district to withhold the witnesses' and the victims' identifying information. We have marked the types of information in the submitted documents that must be withheld under section 552.102. The remainder of the submitted documents must be released to the requestor.(1)

This letter ruling is limited to the particular records at issue in this request and limited to the facts as presented to us; therefore, this ruling must not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records or any other circumstances.

This ruling triggers important deadlines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the governmental body and of the requestor. For example, governmental bodies are prohibited from asking the attorney general to reconsider this ruling. Gov't Code 552.301(f). If the governmental body wants to challenge this ruling, the governmental body must appeal by filing suit in Travis County within 30 calendar days. Id. 552.324(b). In order to get the full benefit of such an appeal, the governmental body must file suit within 10 calendar days. Id. 552.353(b)(3), (c). If the governmental body does not appeal this ruling and the governmental body does not comply with it, then both the requestor and the attorney general have the right to file suit against the governmental body to enforce this ruling. Id. 552.321(a).

If this ruling requires the governmental body to release all or part of the requested information, the governmental body is responsible for taking the next step. Based on the statute, the attorney general expects that, within 10 calendar days of this ruling, the governmental body will do one of the following three things: 1) release the public records; 2) notify the requestor of the exact day, time, and place that copies of the records will be provided or that the records can be inspected; or 3) notify the requestor of the governmental body's intent to challenge this letter ruling in court. If the governmental body fails to do one of these three things within 10 calendar days of this ruling, then the requestor should report that failure to the attorney general's Open Government Hotline, toll free, at 877/673-6839. The requestor may also file a complaint with the district or county attorney. Id. 552.3215(e).

If this ruling requires or permits the governmental body to withhold all or some of the requested information, the requestor can appeal that decision by suing the governmental body. Id. 552.321(a); Texas Department of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408, 411 (Tex. App.-Austin 1992, no writ).

If the governmental body, the requestor, or any other person has questions or comments about this ruling, they may contact our office. Although there is no statutory deadline for contacting us, the attorney general prefers to receive any comments within 10 calendar days of the date of this ruling.

Sincerely,

E. Joanna Fitzgerald
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

EJF\nc

Ref: ID# 131385

Encl: Submitted documents

cc: Mr. Jeffrey Rogers
Feldman & Rogers
5718 Westheimer, Suite 1200
Houston, Texas 77057
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

1. Because section 552.102, in conjunction with common law privacy, is dispositive of this matter, we do not address your arguments regarding sections 552.026 and 552.114 of the Government Code.
 

POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US
An Equal Employment Opportunity Employer


Home | ORLs