Contractors on prevailing wage projects must submit certified payroll reports to the public authority. To what extent is that information subject to a public records request? A New York appellate court recently confronted that issue and ruled in favor of privacy.1
The case arose on the following facts: “Petitioner is a union employee and, as part of his job, purportedly seeks to ensure that nonunion contractors comply with the prevailing wage law.” When he made a public records request to the New York State Thruway, he was given copies of payroll reports that included titles and wages, but with names and addresses of the individual workers redacted. The position of the state agency was that disclosure of names and addresses “would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The lower court agreed, and the union appealed.
The appellate court noted that the NY public records law (similar to laws of other states and the federal government) has a personal privacy exemption. While the information sought here was not specifically delineated in that exemption, the court conducted a balancing test to weigh the rights of the public against the privacy interests of those whose personal information would be disclosed. The standard established by prior court decisions is whether disclosure would be “offensive and objectionable to a reasonable [person] of ordinary sensibilities.”
The appellate court cut to the chase: “The scenario of nonunion employees of a nongovernmental employer being contacted at their homes by someone from a union who knows their names, their home addresses, the amount of money they reportedly earn, and who wants to talk about that income would be, to most reasonable people, offensive and objectionable.”
Amen to that; common sense prevails.