Employee Information and the CPRA

Employee Information and the CPRA

Q: I am curious about the relation between the CPRA and the release of CA State employees’ exact department, classification, and salary information.  I am not a state worker although I work in a state agency and have two close family members who are state employees.  This week it was brought to our attention that a website (www.youradvocacy.com) hosted a list of every state employee, their dept. and title, and their exact dollar salary.  It even listed employees who I know to be no longer employed.  I thought this sounded like an invitation of privacy and not something that should be covered by the CPRA (I admit I tried to read the actual code but couldn’t suffer through to find an answer).

After some complaint (myself and family included), the site has so far removed the information, reposted it and removed it again.  They state that it is public information which anyone can obtain.  I understand the need for public knowledge but I would think knowing a state agency’s classifications and associated salary ranges is much different than posting an individual’s exact income.  They are employees of the state of California but are also members of the public like everyone else- and I’m pretty sure privately employed Joe Blow down the street doesn’t want his community to know he only makes $23,000 a year or that he\’s making $80,000.

So, how does the code cover these specifics or is it left up to the agencies to decide? I saw in your previously answered questions the one entitled “Public employee salaries” which addressed the  Oakland case and employees earning over $100,000 but I am curious about the privacy of average employees and what rights they have to protect themselves.

A: As a general rule, information contained in public records released by the state does not constitute an invasion of privacy.

There have been several cases in which the issue of whether state or local public employee salary information has been litigated.  Of the cases that we are aware, in all but one the courts held that public employee salary information is public, not private, information because it is the public who pays the salaries of public employees through taxes.

The one exemption is a case called “Teamsters,” in which a court found that salary information about employees in a handful of cities might be private because those cities had never publicly released the information in the past.  In such a situation, the court said, the employees could have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Whether “Teamsters” is right or wrong has been subject to some debate. But even if it is correct, “Teamsters” would not seem to help state employees because the state has consistently released this information. For example, we are aware of at least one newspaper that last year obtained from the state a database of 400,000 state employees containing the names, titles, department and title designation, and complete payroll records.