A Sunshine Week Win on Payroll Records
Today, Pashman Stein Walder Hayden secured a victory for our client, Jennifer Coombs, in an OPRA case against the Borough of Westwood.
Ms. Coombs had requested payroll records from Westwood for all employees working for the Borough in 2017. Westwood responded to Ms. Coombs’ request by providing a payroll report, but redacting the names of numerous employees from it. Westwood stated that the redacted names were of minor employees who worked in the summer recreation program and that they were entitled to privacy. After Ms. Coombs objected, Westwood released a new version of the report, but included only initials instead of names for all employees under the age of 18. Ms. Coombs filed suit and Westwood opposed, insisting that OPRA’s privacy provision permitted non-disclosure of the names.
Today, the Honorable Bonnie J. Mizdol, A.J.S.C., ruled in Ms. Coombs’ favor. The judge noted that N.J.S.A. 47:1A-10 provides that notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, a government employee’s “name, title, position, salary, payroll record” and other enumerated information is accessible under OPRA. Thus, the judge ordered disclosure of the payroll records without redactions to the names of the minor employees, ruling that OPRA’s privacy provision was not applicable and that government employees have no reasonable expectation of privacy over their name and salary information.
The language of the statute could not be any clearer,” said PSWH Partner CJ Griffin, who represented Ms. Coombs. “While most personnel records are exempt from access, the Legislature has declared that the public is always entitled to basic information about government employees, including their names and salaries. To rule that the identities of certain categories of employees could remain secret would permit unchecked nepotism or corruption to occur.”
Westwood has until March 20, 2018 to produce the payroll records. Judge Mizdol also ruled that Ms. Coombs’ is entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees for prevailing in the suit.
Click here for a copy of the decision.