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Monday, October 18, 2021

PAC Issues 10th Binding PAC Opinion of 2021


A reporter submitted a FOIA request to the City of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) seeking records relating to a letter where an Alderman expressed concerns about allegations of discrimination, harassment, and a hostile work environment at OEMC. The OEMC provided certain responsive records, but redacted the names of two employees who were alleged or found to have engaged in misconduct. The reporter submitted a Request for Review with the PAC alleging that the OEMC’s redactions violated FOIA.

In PAC Op. 21-010, the PAC determined that the OEMC violated FOIA by redacting the names of its employees who were alleged or found to have engaged in misconduct. Specifically, the PAC rejected OEMC’s argument that the names of these City employees were exempt from disclosure under FOIA’s private information exemption 7(1)(b), because a person’s name is a basic identifier, rather than a unique identifier, and disclosing these employee names would not reveal any “private information."

In addition, the PAC determined that the responsive records concerned a complaint of workplace violence against a City employee and a finding that another City employee violated OEMC’s social media policy by posting a disparaging comment about the complainant on Facebook. As a result, the PAC determined that the records relate to the public duties of public employees are do not, therefore, constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy under section 7(1)(c)  of FOIA.

The PAC also rejected OEMC’s argument that the redacted records could have been withheld in their entirety under FOIA exemption 7(1)(n), which allows withholding certain records relating to a public body’s adjudication of employee grievances or disciplinary cases. Instead, because the records at issue merely documented complaints and investigations of complaints against City employees and were informally resolved and not part of a hearing, proceeding, or other formal agency proceeding that would constitute an “adjudication," the PAC concluded that OEMC failed to demonstrate that the redacted names of the City employes were exempt under FOIA exemption 7(1)(n). 

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink

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