NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · NORTH CAROLINA · Freedom of Information · Aug. 19, 2005
Public can see salaries of hospital workers
Aug. 19, 2005 · Although public hospital employees’ salaries are records open for public inspection, other compensation-related records such as bonuses or severance agreements are not under a special public disclosure law passed specifically for public hospitals , the Court of Appeals of North Carolina ruled Wednesday.
A public disclosure law specific to public hospitals designates all non-salary compensation information as confidential, Judge Linda M. McGee wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel. Statutory language “employed by the General Assembly shows that it was concerned about protecting the confidentiality of public hospital personnel information” in particular, the court concluded.
The Charlotte Observer first requested compensation information from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital for 17 public hospital employees in October 2002. In addition to current salary, the newspaper asked for documents pertaining to employee benefits and expense reimbursements.
The hospital only handed over salary figures, however, claiming that the remaining records were privacy-protected personnel records. The Observer sued in January 2004, and a trial court ordered the documents’ release last August. The hospital appealed.
In reversing the trial court’s decision, the Court of Appeals noted that a public disclosure law specific to public hospitals governed the dispute, not the state’s generally applicable open records law. With the exception of information such as name, age, and current salary, hospital employees’ personnel files are confidential under that public hospital disclosure law.
“The General Assembly distinguished between ‘compensation’ and ‘current salary'” when it wrote the law, McGee reasoned, “and consciously chose to use the term ‘current salary’ in deciding which parts of a public hospital employee’s personnel file was a matter of public record.”
The decision is limited to public hospital employees, the court cautioned. “The General Assembly deliberately chose to treat public hospitals differently from other public institutions” by enacting an individualized public disclosure law for them, McGee wrote.
(Knight Publishing Co. v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital; Media Counsel: Mark J. Prak, Marcus W. Trathen and Charles E. Coble, Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey, & Leonard, LLP; Raleigh, N.C.) — RL