The issue over whether state agencies can and should release the birth dates of public employees has been partially resolved by an Oklahoma County district judge.
In a summary judgment issued this afternoon, District Judge Bryan C. Dixon told state agencies to continue a process outlined last year by the attorney general. In effect, each state agency is supposed to determine whether releasing its employees’ birth dates constitutes an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
You can read Judge Dixon’s order here.
We are still digesting the order, but it looks like it’s not a clear win for any of the parties. Any appeals to the state Supreme Court are due in about a month.
First, some quick background: The case started with an Open Records request back in February by The Oklahoman for all names, job titles, employee identification numbers, hire dates, birth dates and salary information for all state employees. The request came as the Legislature was contemplating closing off some of that information.
The newspaper wanted the information to check the backgrounds of state employees. The birth date is a key secondary identifier if employees have similar names. Meanwhile, employee ID numbers are useful in tracking public employees if they get married, change jobs or change their names.
The Oklahoma Public Employees Association, joined by an association of state troopers, filed a lawsuit to block the release of the birth dates and employee IDs. Other groups later joined the lawsuit, including the Tulsa World, other media groups and state agencies.
In today’s ruling, Dixon said that employee ID numbers are not subject to disclosure by any state agency. In effect, he agreed with arguments put forth by the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of State Finance that knowing those could compromise the security of the state’s Employee Self-Service system for managing payroll information. The employee ID is used as the login for that system.
As our attorneys pointed out, this is despite the fact that we have been getting more than 36,000 employee ID numbers along with our regular monthly state payroll files since at least 2007. We stopped getting them in March. In his ruling, Dixon did not cite any specific statute limiting access to the employee ID numbers.
On birth dates, Dixon said state employees did not have any rights to individually challenge the disclosure of DOBs by state agencies on privacy grounds. That leaves the decision on disclosure to the heads of each state agency. The judge gave the agencies 60 days to make that decision. (The Attorney General’s office already provided a list of its employees’ birth dates to The Oklahoman back in March, before the OPEA and the troopers association filed their lawsuit.)
Finally, Dixon ruled that legislative personnel records are exempt from the Open Records Act. He ordered OSF and OPM not disclose “any records and personnel records concerning Legislative staff.”
This last point is confusing to me on several levels. First of all, does that mean the state should immediately stop putting salary information of legislative staffers on the Open Books site maintained by the Office of State Finance? Secondly, don’t taxpayers have a right to see who is working for their elected officials down at the Capitol?
Written by Paul Monies