UPDATE: The Illinois Supreme Court held that an employment contract is not the kind of record the General Assembly intended to keep from public view and does not fall within the exemption for personnel files in section 7(1)(b) of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The Illinois Supreme Court agreed that remand for the circuit court to privately inspect the contract is appropriate, but disagreed as to the scope of the inspection. It directed the circuit court to determine whether it contains personal information (such as a social security number or bank account information) which, if disclosed, would constitute an unwarranted invasion of the superintendent’s personal privacy. That information must be deleted. See 5 ILCS 140/8.
But, the Court was clear that the circuit court's inspection is not to become a battle of details where the circuit court determines whether each individual paragraph or subsection bears on the superintendent’s public duties.
Therefore, an employment contract, as a whole, bears on the employee’s public duties and, moreover, constitutes a “contract dealing with the expenditure of public or other funds of public bodies”; (5 ILCS 140/2(c)(vii)) and, with the exception noted above for personal information, the superintendent’s employment contract must be disclosed in its entirety.
HISTORY OF THIS CASE:
In Stern v. Wheaton-Warrenville Community Unit School District 200, No. 107139. (November 26, 2008), the Illinois Supreme Court granted a petition for leave to appeal to determine whether the trial court properly denied plaintiff's FOIA request for a copy of the superintendent's contract. The trial court found that the superintendent's employment contract was per se exempt under FOIA because it was part of his personnel file.
Before the petition for leave to appeal was filed, the Appellate Court reversed the trial court and found that public employees' employment contracts were subject to disclosure under FOIA with respect to information bearing on public duties. The Appellate Court also found that there were issues of material fact regarding whether any portion of the subject contract was exempt under FOIA.
The Appellate Court issued its opinion on June 9, 2008. Then, it modified and superseded its opinion when it denied a rehearing on July 11, 2008. After that, the Appellate Court withdrew its opinion on July 25, 2008 and modified it on August 12, 2008. The petition for leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court was granted on November 26, 2008.
IASB's October 2008 Newsbulletin's Recent Developments in School Law column discussed the issues in this case and why they are important for school officials to be aware of, understand and watch.