Q: I am a retired public employee and I’m being taken to small claims for an alleged overpayment that supposedly happened in 2008. I need to try to get copies of my payroll for 2008. If those are still around, can I access those? How would I do it?
A: The California Public Records Act, Cal. Govt.. Code sections 6250 et seq., provides that all records of state and local agencies be open to the public for inspection and copying.
The Act is however subject to numerous exemptions, many of which are set forth in Govt. Code section 6254.
Payroll reports of governmental employees are generally considered to be exempt from disclosure pursuant to the “personnel files exemption,” Govt Code section 6254(c) (exemption “personnel, medical, or similar files the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy’), although in certain situations salary information may be public. See IFPTE v. Superior Court, 42 cal. 4th 319 (2007).
The concern that underlies the personnel file exemption is one for the privacy of the public employee. Therefore, you could waive your privacy interests and thus eliminate the need to assert the exemption. Please note that in doing so, however, the information will be public and produced to any requester, not just you.
A better approach, assuming the agency retained the records, might be to seek the records pursuant to the Information Practices Act, Cal. Civil Code sections 1798 et seq., the statutory scheme that governs a citizen’s rights of access to records that state agencies hold about the citizen. I believe the payroll information should be available pursuant to the IPA.
Bryan Cave LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and freedom of speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representations. I apologize for the long delay in responding to your inquiry.