Jan. 18, 2008 · Birth dates of state employees are public records and not exempt from disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act, the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Austin ruled on Thursday.
The state comptroller’s office tried to withhold the records, arguing that releasing such information would intrude upon the employees’ private affairs and could leave them open to identity theft.
But the court disagreed. “Even if the Comptroller had shown that the release of state employee’s dates of birth is an intentional intrusion upon the employee’s private affairs, [he] provided no argument or authority suggesting that the release of that information would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person,” wrote Judge Diane Henson, who was joined by her two colleagues on the three-judge panel.
This legal battle began two years ago when Dallas Morning News reporter Jennifer LaFleur attempted to gain access to the most recent copy of the Texas state employee payroll database. The state comptroller’s office released most of the database, but unlike in years past, excluded birth dates.
LaFleur and the Daily News argued that birth dates were necessary to distinguish state employees with the same or similar names.
Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn said some of the information contained in the database was confidential and thus protected from disclosure. State Attorney General Greg Abbott disagreed, issuing a ruling that the information was public. Strayhorn then filed suit in Travis County district court.
LaFleur said she welcomed the appeals court decision. “The court reaffirmed what everyone already knew,” she said, adding: “The information should have been public under state law and the comptroller spent years trying to illegally keep it private.”
The comptroller’s office said officials are debating an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.
(Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts v. Attorney General) — Alison Schmidt