Office of the ATTORNEY GENERAL
December 6, 2002
Mr. Michael Burns
Dear Mr. Burns:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 173253.
The Texas Workforce Commission (the "commission") received requests from two individuals for (1) "all documents, memorandum, notes, etc." left on an employee's desk and (2) documentation of an internal investigation. You state that the commission has released some of the requested information. You claim that the remaining requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and have reviewed the information you submitted.
We first note that the commission did not comply with section 552.301 of the Government Code in requesting this decision. Section 552.301 prescribes procedures that a governmental body must follow in asking this office to decide whether requested information is excepted from public disclosure. Section 552.301(b) provides that "[t]he governmental body must ask for the attorney general's decision and state the exceptions that apply . . . not later than the tenth business day after the date of receiving the written request [for information]." Section 552.302 provides that "[i]f a governmental body does not request an attorney general decision as provided by Section 552.301 . . . the information requested in writing is presumed to be subject to required public disclosure and must be released unless there is a compelling reason to withhold the information."
In this instance, the requests for information appear to have been submitted to the commission on July 17, 2002. You requested this decision on October 1, 2002. Thus, you did not request this decision within the ten-business-day period prescribed by section 552.301(b). Therefore, the submitted information is presumed to be public and must be released under section 552.302, unless there is a compelling reason to withhold any of the information from the public. See also Hancock v. State Bd. of Ins., 797 S.W.2d 379, 381 (Tex. App.--Austin 1990, no writ). The presumption that information is public under section 552.302 can generally be overcome by a demonstration that the information is confidential by law or that third-party interests are at stake. See Open Records Decision Nos. 630 at 3 (1994), 325 at 2 (1982). You claim that some of the information at issue is confidential under section 552.101 of the Government Code. As a claim under section 552.101 can provide a compelling reason for non-disclosure under section 552.302, we will consider your arguments.
Section 552.101 of the Government Code excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." This exception encompasses information that other statutes make confidential. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. (the "ADA") provides that information about the medical conditions and medical histories of applicants or employees must be (1) collected and maintained on separate forms, (2) kept in separate medical files, and (3) treated as a confidential medical record. In addition, information obtained in the course of a "fitness for duty examination," conducted to determine whether an employee is still able to perform the essential functions of his job, is to be treated as a confidential medical record. See 29 C.F.R. § 1630.14(c); see also Open Records Decision No. 641 (1996). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the "EEOC") has determined that medical information for the purposes of the ADA includes "specific information about an individual's disability and related functional limitations, as well as general statements that an individual has a disability or that an ADA reasonable accommodation has been provided for a particular individual." See Letter from Ellen J. Vargyas, Legal Counsel, EEOC, to Barry Kearney, Associate General Counsel, National Labor Relations Board, 3 (Oct. 1, 1997). You claim that responsive information relating to an employee of the commission is confidential under the ADA. We have marked the information that you must withhold under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with the ADA.
You also raise section 552.101 in conjunction with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2654 (the "FMLA"). Section 825.500 of chapter V of title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations identifies the record-keeping requirements for employers that are subject to the FMLA. Subsection (g) of section 825.500 states that
[r]ecords and documents relating to medical certifications, recertifications or medical histories of employees or employees' family members, created for purposes of FMLA, shall be maintained as confidential medical records in separate files/records from the usual personnel files, and if ADA is also applicable, such records shall be maintained in conformance with ADA confidentiality requirements . . . , except that:
(1) Supervisors and managers may be informed regarding necessary restrictions on the work or duties of an employee and necessary accommodations;
(2) First aid and safety personnel may be informed (when appropriate) if the employee's physical or medical condition might require emergency treatment; and
(3) Government officials investigating compliance with FMLA (or other pertinent law) shall be provided relevant information upon request.
29 C.F.R. § 825.500(g). You state that some of the submitted information relates to medical certifications, recertifications, or medical histories created for purposes of the FMLA. You also state that none of the release provisions of the FMLA is applicable to this information. We have marked the information that you must withhold under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with the FMLA.
You also raise section 552.101 in conjunction with the common-law right to privacy. Common-law privacy protects information that is (1) highly intimate or embarrassing, such that its release would be highly objectionable to a person of ordinary sensibilities, and (2) of no legitimate public interest. See Industrial Found. v. Texas Ind. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668, 685 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). In Morales v. Ellen, 840 S.W.2d 519 (Tex. App. - El Paso 1992, writ denied), the court applied the common-law right to privacy addressed in Industrial Foundation to an investigation of alleged sexual harassment. The investigation files at issue in Ellen contained third-party witness statements, an affidavit in which the individual accused of the misconduct responded to the allegations, and the conclusions of the board of inquiry that conducted the investigation. See 840 S.W.2d at 525. The court upheld the release of the affidavit of the person under investigation and the conclusions of the board of inquiry, stating that the disclosure of such documents sufficiently served the public's interest in the matter. Id. The court further held, however, that "the public does not possess a legitimate interest in the identities of the individual witnesses, nor the details of their personal statements beyond what is contained in the documents that have been ordered released." Id.
Thus, if there is an adequate summary of an investigation of alleged sexual harassment, the summary must be released under Ellen, but the identities of the victims and witnesses must be redacted, and their detailed statements must be withheld from disclosure. See also Open Records Decision Nos. 393 (1983), 339 (1982). If no adequate summary of the investigation exists, all of the information relating to the investigation ordinarily must be released, with the exception of information that would tend to identify the victims and witnesses. In either case, the identity of the individual accused of sexual harassment is not protected from disclosure. Common-law privacy does not protect information about a public employee's alleged misconduct on the job or complaints made about a public employee's job performance. See Open Records Decision Nos. 438 (1986), 405 (1983), 230 (1979), 219 (1978).
You state that some of the submitted information relates to an internal investigation that was prompted in part by allegations of sexual harassment. You also state that no summary of the investigation was made. We find that Ellen is applicable to the information that relates to the investigation. As there is no adequate summary of the investigation, you must release all of the information that relates to the investigation in accordance with Ellen, except for information that would identify victims or witnesses of alleged sexual harassment. We have marked information that would identify the victims and witnesses. You must withhold the marked information under section 552.101 in conjunction with common-law privacy under Ellen. You must also withhold this information to the extent that it is contained in the submitted audiotapes.
The information that relates to the investigation also contains a Texas driver's license number. Section 552.130(a)(1) of the Government Code excepts from disclosure information that relates to "a motor vehicle operator's or driver's license or permit issued by an agency of this state[.]" The Texas driver's license that we have marked must be withheld from disclosure under section 552.130.
In summary, you must withhold some of the submitted information under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. You must withhold some of the information that relates to the internal investigation under section 552.101 in conjunction with common-law privacy under Ellen. The Texas driver's license number is excepted from disclosure under section 552.130. The rest of the requested information must be released.
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).
Please remember that under the Act the release of information triggers certain procedures for costs and charges to the requestor. If records are released in compliance with this ruling, be sure that all charges for the information are at or below the legal amounts. Questions or complaints about over-charging must be directed to Hadassah Schloss at the Texas Building and Procurement Commission at 512/475-2497.
If the governmental body, the requestor, or any other person has questions or comments about this ruling, they may contact our office. We note that a third party may challenge this ruling by filing suit seeking to withhold information from a requestor. Gov't Code § 552.325. Although there is no statutory deadline for contacting us, the attorney general prefers to receive any comments within 10 calendar days of the date of this ruling.
James W. Morris, III
c: Mr. Antonio R. Scandiffio
Mr. James T. McNutt
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US