Public Access Opinion 18-010

Settlement Agreement Provisions Not Exempt from FOIA

Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
Case: Public Access Opinion 18-010
Date: Friday, August 24, 2018

A public school district (District) violated FOIA by improperly using Section 7(1)(c) to redact portions of a settlement agreement with a former employee. On April 13, 2018, the Requestor submitted a FOIA request to the District seeking copies of records pertaining to a settlement agreement between the District and a former school principal. Three days later, the District provided the Requestor with a redacted copy of the settlement agreement but did not specify the exemption in Section 7 of FOIA that it claimed to authorize the redactions. The Requestor emailed the District to ask why the redacted information was not disclosed, and the District responded that the information was not disclosed because it would have constituted a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy under FOIA Section 7(1)(c). The Requestor sought review by the PAC, alleging the District failed to timely assert the exemption it used and that the District did not assert a genuine basis for the unwarranted invasion of personal privacy exemption.

After reviewing an unredacted copy of the settlement agreement, the PAC determined that the redacted portions – which very generally addressed the nature of the former school principal’s potential claims against the District – were so general that they were not highly personal, and so their disclosure would not be objectionable to a reasonable person. Further, the PAC found that the nature of the claims bear on the public duties of a public employee, which it had previously held “shall not be considered an invasion of personal privacy.” PAC 15-004. For these reasons, the PAC held that the redacted information was not exempt from disclosure under the plain language of Section 7(1)(c) and ordered the District to provide the Requestor an unredacted copy of the settlement agreement.

This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.