A school principal wrote a rebuttal to a separation of employment letter from the superintendent. A local newspaper requested the copy of the rebuttal letter under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The school denied disclosure under section 7(1)(C) for personal privacy and 7.5(q), which prevents disclosures otherwise prohibited under the Personnel Record Review Act. The school sent the office of Public Access Counselor (PAC) a preauthorization request indicating the intent to deny disclosure under the two exemptions under the FOIA. PAC addressed both exemptions and found that neither was applicable to the school. The Illinois Press Association then sent the school a letter asking them to reconsider the denial of releasing the letter. The school responded by asserting a third exemption under the FOIA. This exemption was section 7 (1) (n), which exempts records relating to a public body’s adjudication of an employee grievance or disciplinary case. The newspaper did not wait to hear from PAC concerning the third exemption and filed suit. After filing suit, the school released the letter to the newspaper on their own accord.
In filing suit, the newspaper was now looking to collect attorney’s fees and to impose a civil penalty on the school for their delay in disclosure. The school did not have to pay the newspapers attorney’s fees because the newspaper did not prevail. In order to prevail, the newspaper had to have received judicially sanctioned relief. The school released the letter without any direction from the court and the newspaper did not prevail. A civil penalty was imposed on the school according to section 11 (j) of the FOIA. The court found that the school willfully and intentionally failed to comply with the FOIA and was fined $2,500.
Rachel Prezek, IASB Law Clerk