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Salaries open under public records act

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    News Media Update         CALIFORNIA         Freedom of Information         April 20, 2005    

Salaries open under public records act

  • Disclosing salary information does not violate privacy interests of city employees in Oakland, an appeals court ruled, thwarting efforts of employee unions to keep the figures secret.

April 20, 2005 — The Contra Costa Times is entitled to names and salaries of Oakland, Calif., employees who earn $100,000 or more a year, a state appeals court in San Francisco ruled Monday.

The state Court of Appeal upheld last year’s decision by an Alameda County trial court that the employees have no legally protected privacy interest in the figures, that disclosure would probably not embarrass them and that, even if there were a protected privacy interest in salaries, it would be outweighed by the public’s interest in exposing “inefficiency, favoritism, nepotism and fraud.”

Oakland officials had historically disclosed salaries until last year when they said that their release constituted an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The newspapers sued and the trial court allowed the Local 21 of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers and the Oakland Police Officers Association to intervene. After the trial court ordered disclosure, the unions appealed but the city did not.

Appellate Justice Joanne Parilli wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel that “well-established” norms of California public policy and American public employment exclude public employee names and salaries from the zone of financial privacy protection.

She pointed out that the case addressed only salaries of high level employees, not personal financial information of individual employees. Parilli left open the possibility that an individual employee might show privacy interests worthy of protection.

(International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers v. Superior Court of Alameda County and Contra Costa Newspapers; Media counsel: Karl Olson, Levy, Ram and Olson, San Francisco)RD

© 2005 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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