Public Access Opinion 21-010

Names of City Employees Who Engaged in Misconduct Are Subject to Disclosure

Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
Case: Public Access Opinion 21-010
Date: Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) of the City of Chicago (City) violated FOIA when it redacted names of its employees from records submitted to Requestor.
On May 6, 2021, Requestor, a reporter with the Chicago Tribune, submitted a FOIA request to OEMC by email. The request sought copies of records related to a letter expressing concerns about “allegations of racial discrimination, sexual harassment, and a discipline heavy and hostile work environment” at the OEMC. On June 2, 2021, OEMC responded to Requestor with copies of the responsive records. However, several names were redacted from the copies, including the complainant, the name of an employee who violated OEMC’s social media policy, and the names of potential witnesses to the filed complaint, as well as the telephone numbers of the complainant and the respondent. This information was redacted pursuant to sections 7(1)(b), possibly 7(1)(c), and 7(1)(n) of FOIA. On June 28, 2021, Requestor submitted his Request for Review to the PAC contesting the redactions.
Section 7(1)(b) of FOIA exempts “[p]rivate information unless disclosure is required by another provision of [FOIA], a State or federal law or a court order.” Similarly, section 7(1)(c) of FOIA exempts “[p]ersonal information…which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy[.]” Section 7(1)(n) of FOIA exempts “[r]ecords relating to a public body’s adjudication of employee grievances or disciplinary cases; however, this exemption shall not extend to the final outcome of cases in which discipline is imposed.”
The PAC held that names are not considered private information under section 7(1)(b). FOIA defines “private information” as “unique identifiers.” Examples of unique identifiers include social security numbers and driver’s license numbers. Names are not included in the definition, according to the PAC. The PAC also stated that “[r]ecords concerning alleged workplace misconduct and violations of policies…bear directly on the public duties of public employees.” The PAC therefore held that those redactions were not justified under section 7(1)(c) either. The PAC stated that section 7(1)(n) was also not applicable because “[t]he available information indicates that these matters were resolved by the City without advancing to a formal agency proceeding that constituted an adjudication.” For these reasons, the PAC concluded that the OEMC violated FOIA by submitting the redacted records, and directed the OEMC to disclose the names of the City employees to the Requestor.
This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.