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County employee salaries are not exempt from state records act

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         MICHIGAN         Freedom of Information         Apr 2, 2002    

County employee salaries are not exempt from state records act

  • An appeals court said employee salaries and benefits, such as sick pay, are not exempt from disclosure as employee records.

The Michigan Court of Appeals held March 15 that Wayne County employee salaries are not exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Act and required the county to release the records to a local newspaper.

The Detroit News brought action against Wayne County for the names, job titles and pay rates of all county officials and employees for 2000 and 2001. The newspaper also requested the names of all employees who received pay for leave of absences during the years 1999 and 2000, the names of all employees who received pay for sick leave, as well as the amounts, and the names of all employees who had a county vehicle to drive.

The county denied the requests, saying the records were exempt under the Civil Service Act, which requires employee records to be confidential and not open for public inspection. The state FOI Act prohibits the release of any document exempted by another state or federal statute. The court found that the Civil Rights Act, in requiring confidentiality of employee records, did not provide a statutory exemption from disclosure.

The Detroit News filed a complaint against the county for violating Michigan’s FOI Act. The trial court found that the Civil Service Act did apply but that the requested records did not fall under its exemption. The defendants were ordered to release the records.

The county appealed, arguing that an exemption in the FOI Act allows those records to be sealed. The county contended that the records should be kept confidential since they were “service records,” containing “fact statements on all matters relating to the character and quality of the work done and the attitude of the individual to his work.” The county included compensation and benefit information in that definition.

The court found that the county failed to show sufficiently that the requested records qualified as “service records” or as employee records. The court also rejected the county’s contention that only public education employees’ salaries must be disclosed.

(Detroit News v. County of Wayne; Media counsel: James E. Stewart, Detroit) MM


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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