Wotjas v. Director of Administrative Services, Town of Stonington
Absent extraordinary circumstances, a claim that disclosure of a grievance constitutes an invasion of personal privacy would be presumptively unsupportable. Joe Wotjas and the New London Day appealed to the Freedom of Information Commission alleging that the respondents, including the town of Stonington, violated the Freedom of Information Act by denying their request for a public employee collective bargaining grievance. The respondents offered no evidence to prove that they reasonably believed that disclosure of the grievance would legally constitute an invasion of privacy under C.G.S. §1-214(b) to support their claim of exemption. The employee at issue, present at the hearing, declined to participate indicating that his only interest was to pursue his grievance through the collective bargaining process. The respondents, who sought to withdraw the claim of exemption at the hearing, conceded that the grievance was solely over the reduction of the employee's position from full to part time. The respondents had no reasonable belief that disclosure of the grievance would legally constitute an invasion of privacy. They violated C.G.S. §1-214(b) by offering the employee and his collective bargaining unit an opportunity to object and by withholding the grievance based on those objections. The respondents' claim of exemption under C.G.S. §1-210(b)(4) for pending claims or litigation was corrected. The grievance was patently not permissibly exempt from disclosure under C.G.S. §1-210(b)(4). The appropriate claim of exemption was under C.G.S. §1-210(b)(9) for "records, reports and statements or strategy or negotiations with respect to collective bargaining." The respondents were seeking to avoid the 1994 Appellate Court decision in Bloomfield Education Association v. Frahm, which established that a public employee grievance itself is not a record of strategy or negotiation under C.G.S. §1-210(b)(9). The respondents offered no evidence to prove that the grievance pertained to strategy and negotiations. The respondents violated the FOIA by failing to disclose the record. They were ordered to provide the complainant with a copy of the requested record and to arrange for an educational training session.