|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
December 20, 1999
Mr. Craig H. Smith
Dear Mr. Smith:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under the Public Information Act, chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 130594.
The Texas Workers' Compensation Commission (the "commission") received a request for information pertaining to a certain investigation of employee misconduct as well as the requestor's personnel file. You state that the Commission will release to the requestor the requested information with the exception of the investigative report. You claim that the investigative report is excepted from disclosure under section 552.102 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
Section 552.102(a) of the Government Code excepts from public disclosure "information in a personnel file, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." The test to be applied to information claimed to be protected under section 552.102 is the same test formulated by the Texas Supreme Court in Industrial Foundation of the South v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977) for information claimed to be protected under the doctrine of common-law privacy as incorporated by section 552.101. See Hubert v. Harte-Hanks Texas Newspapers, 652 S.W.2d 546 (Tex. App.--Austin 1983, writ ref'd n.r.e.). Section 552.101, which excepts from disclosure information that is confidential by law, incorporates the common-law right to privacy. Information may be withheld under section 552.101 in conjunction with the common-law right to privacy if the information contains highly intimate or embarrassing facts about a person's private affairs such that its release would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person and if the information is of no legitimate concern to the public. See Industrial Found. of the South v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977).
The submitted information concerns the activities of public employees in the workplace. The public has a legitimate interest in public employees' workplace activities, job performance and reasons for dismissal. See Open Records Decision Nos. 444 at 5-6 (1986), 405 at 2-3 (1983). Accordingly, we conclude that the commission may not withhold the requested information from the requestor based on section 552.102 of the Government Code. The commission must release the information to the requestor.
This letter ruling is limited to the particular records at issue in this request and limited to the facts as presented to us; therefore, this ruling must not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records or any other circumstances.
This ruling triggers important deadlines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the governmental body and of the requestor. For example, governmental bodies are prohibited from asking the attorney general to reconsider this ruling. Gov't Code § 552.301(f). If the governmental body wants to challenge this ruling, the governmental body must appeal by filing suit in Travis County within 30 calendar days. Id. § 552.324(b). In order to get the full benefit of such an appeal, the governmental body must file suit within 10 calendar days. Id. § 552.353(b)(3), (c). If the governmental body does not appeal this ruling and the governmental body does not comply with it, then both the requestor and the attorney general have the right to file suit against the governmental body to enforce this ruling. Id. § 552.321(a).
If this ruling requires the governmental body to release all or part of the requested information, the governmental body is responsible for taking the next step. Based on the statute, the attorney general expects that, within 10 calendar days of this ruling, the governmental body will do one of the following three things: 1) release the public records; 2) notify the requestor of the exact day, time, and place that copies of the records will be provided or that the records can be inspected; or 3) notify the requestor of the governmental body's intent to challenge this letter ruling in court. If the governmental body fails to do one of these three things within 10 calendar days of this ruling, then the requestor should report that failure to the attorney general's Open Government Hotline, toll free, at 877/673-6839. The requestor may also file a complaint with the district or county attorney. Id. § 552.3215(e).
If this ruling requires or permits the governmental body to withhold all or some of the requested information, the requestor can appeal that decision by suing the governmental body. Id. § 552.321(a); Texas Department of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408, 411 (Tex. App.-Austin 1992, no writ).
Kay H. Hastings
Ref: ID# 130594
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Ms. Julie Castillo
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US