The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in a 4-2 decision Tuesday that Penn State football coach Joe Paterno’s "salary and related information" is public information, and must be disclosed under the state’s Right To Know law.
The court’s opinion, written by Justice James J. Fitzgerald, III, said that although Penn State is not a public agency under public records laws, the public still has a right to see the names, employment history and salaries of all employees participating in the state employees’ retirement fund.
Paterno’s salary, as well as that of others in the state retirement system, is necessarily public, Fitzgerald wrote, in order to "justify all guaranteed disbursements" made from the state fund.
The court said, however, that employees’ personal information, including addresses, telephone and social secuity numbers could remain undisclosed.
The case originated from a 2002 information request made by The Patriot-News in Harrisburg to the state agency that administers the retirement plan for Paterno’s salary information, as well as that of administrators at Penn State. After a hearing on the matter, the agency agreed to release the records. Penn State, Paterno and others brought suit to block release of the information but a lower court agreed that the requested records should be open to the public. That lower court decision was then appealed to the supreme court.
In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Ralph Cappy wrote that because none of the empolyees about whom the newspaper sought salary information had retired or received retirement payouts, the information should not be considered a "record," but instead merely data stored in the state’s retirement system database, and consequently, not subject to the public records law.