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7. Complaints filed against employees


  • California

    Non-Peace Officer Public Employees: Public where they “reveal allegations of a substantial nature, as distinct from baseless or trivial, and there is reasonable cause to believe the complaint is well-founded . . . .” Bakersfield City Sch. Dist. v. Superior Court, 118 Cal. App. 4th 1041, 1046, 13 Cal. Rptr. 3d 517 (2004) (upholding access to alleged incident of sexual harassment or intimidation by school principal even though district had found allegation not true) (citing Am. Fed’n of State, Cty. and Mun. Emps. v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 80 Cal. App. 3d 913, 146 Cal. Rptr. 42 (1978)); see also Marken v. Santa Monica-Malibu Unified Sch. Dist., 202 Cal. App. 4th 1250, 1273, 136 Cal. Rptr. 3d 395 (2012) (quoting Bakersfield and discussing case law in context of substantiated complaint that teacher violated sexual harassment policy); compare Bakersfield with Associated Chino Teachers v. Chino Valley Unif. Sch. Dist., 30 Cal. App. 5th 530, 543, 241 Cal. Rptr. 3d 732 (2018) (holding complaints against high school volleyball coach for yelling, belittling student-athletes and scheduling practices at their homes were not substantial in nature sufficient to outweigh public employee’s privacy interest in personnel file).

    Peace-Officers:  Public under certain circumstances.  Complaints against peace officers generally are protected from disclosure under the California Penal Code. See Cal. Penal Code §§ 832.5, 832.7, 832.8.  In 2018, however, the California Legislature enacted Senate Bill 1421, which mandates public access to four categories of information: (1) incidents involving the discharge of a firearm at a person by a peace officer; (2) incidents involving the use of force by a peace officer against a person resulting in death or great bodily injury; (3) incidents in which a sustained finding was made by a law enforcement agency or oversight agency that a peace officer or custodial officer engaged in the sexual assault involving a member of the public; and (4) incidents in which a sustained finding was made by a law enforcement agency or oversight agency of dishonesty by a peace officer or custodial officer directly related to the reporting, investigation, or prosecution of a crime, or directly related to the reporting of, or investigation of misconduct by, another peace officer or custodial officer, including, but not limited to, any sustained findings of perjury, false statements, filing false reports, destruction, falsifying, or concealing of evidence. Cal. Penal. Code § 832.7(b).

    SB 1421 applies retroactively. See Walnut Creek Police Officers’ Ass’n v. City of Walnut Creek, 33 Cal. App. 5th 940, 941, 245 Cal. Rptr. 3d 398 (March 12, 2019).

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  • District of Columbia

    The privacy exemption, D.C. Code Ann. § 2-534(a)(2), likely applies. In District of Columbia v. Fraternal Order of Police, Metropolitan Police Department Labor Committee, 75 A.3d 259, 262-63 (D.C. 2013), the court held that emails sent to a “Chief Concerns” email account for Metropolitan Police Department employees (which included complaints about other employees, complaints about the MPD, questions, and suggestions about workplace dynamics) could be redacted under the privacy exemption.

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  • Georgia

    Complaints filed against public employees are not exempt from disclosure under the Act. However, the Act does exempt “[r]ecords consisting of material obtained in investigations related to the suspension, firing, or investigation of complaints against public officers or employees until ten days after the same has been presented to the agency or an officer for action or the investigation is otherwise concluded or terminated, provided that this paragraph shall not be interpreted to make such investigatory records privileged.” O.C.G.A. § 50-18-72(a)(8).

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  • Iowa

    No case directly on point, but they are likely exempt from disclosure if embodied in personnel record and possibly if located in an internal investigation.  Clymer v. City of Cedar Rapids, 601 N.W.2d 42, 46 (Iowa 1999) (citations omitted).  However, if the complaint provides the basis for a resignation in lieu of termination or an employment termination, the public body may need to provide a statement of the reason and release the reason for the cessation of employment.  See Iowa Code § 22.7(11).

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  • New Mexico

    Letters or memoranda that are matters of opinion do not constitute public records.  See NMSA 1978 § 14-2-1(C).

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  • Oklahoma

    Not specifically addressed.

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  • Vermont

    “Personal documents relating to an individual, including information in any files maintained to hire, evaluate, promote, or discipline any employee of a public agency” are exempt from disclosure.  1 V.S.A. § 317(c)(7).  However, “all information in personnel files of an individual employee of any public agency shall be made available to that individual employee or his or her designated representative.”  Id.

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  • Wisconsin

    Complaints are available for public inspection, subject to the balancing test, once the investigation is closed. Wis. Stat. § 19.36(10)(b).

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