MINNESOTA — Videotapes of University of Minnesota gymnastic instructors engaged in sexual activity are public record, a Minneapolis district court judge ruled in mid-June.
The tapes, earlier portions of which showed the gymnastic team performing, were handed out to team members. They were the basis for an investigation that led to the instructors’ dismissals, which were upheld in court.
The public has an interest in knowing how and why government agencies discipline employees, the court said. “Newspapers are free to examine the reasons for a government agency’s actions and criticize the government agency even though the agency’s conduct is upheld in the courts.”
The university refused a request for access to the tapes under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act by the student newspaper, the Minnesota Daily. The act provides that any data which form a basis of a decision to discipline an employee are public information.
On administrative appeal, a state administration commissioner ruled that the videotapes were public record but must be protected as private data because any other result would be “absurd.”
The district court judge disagreed, saying that neither the commissioner nor the court could ignore the clear language of the statute.
“If the Commissioner is correct that the legislature would not want videotapes like this made public, then it is the function of the legislature, not this Court, to add a provision to the Act providing an exception for ‘sensitive’ material such as this,” the court said.
The university has since released the tapes to the Minnesota Daily. (Minnesota Daily v. Univ. of Minn.; Media Counsel: Marshall Tanick, Minneapolis)
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