Two employees of the Spokane School District were the subject of an investigation. Both employees? were? placed? on? paid? administrative leave? during? the? investigation.?? ?The? allegations were not part of the record and the investigation was ongoing for four years.?? Two media outlets submitted a public records request for the administrative leave letter given to Anthony Predisik. The other public records request asked for ?information on all district employees currently on paid/non-paid administrative leave.? Predisik and co-Plaintiff, Katke, separately sued the District to enjoin disclosure of the leave letter and spreadsheets about all employees, alleging each record is exempt under the ?[p]ersonal information? and ?investigative? record exemptions??? ?of??? ?RCW??? ?42.56.230(3)??? ?and 42.56.240(1). The trial court found that Predisik’s and Katke’s identities, but not the records themselves, were exempt from disclosure under RCW 42.56.230(3). The judge ordered all three records disclosed with Predisik’s and Katke’s names redacted. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The?? Supreme?? Court?? granted?? review.?? In?? an opinion by Justice Yu for five members of the Court, the majority held there was no right to privacy at all.
In order to qualify for the ?personal information? exemption of RCW 42.56.230(3), the employees must? demonstrate? that? they? have? a? right? to privacy in personal information contained in a record and if such a right exists, that disclosure would violate it.?? Although the statute provides the test for determining whether the right of privacy is violated, it does not provide guidance to determine whether the right exists in the first instance. In that regard, the Court relied upon common law and the Restatement of Torts, and concluded? that? the? PRA? does? not? recognize? a right of privacy in the mere fact that a public employer? is? investigating? an? employee.?? ?The Court distinguished, however, the investigation itself from the employee’s conduct giving rise to that investigation.?? ?[T]he mere fact there is an open investigation into allegations of misconduct is not, by itself, a reason to withhold a record from ?disclosure.???? Agencies ?and ?courts ?must review each responsive record and discern from its four corners whether the record discloses factual allegations that are truly of a private nature, using the Restatement as a guide.??? The Court concluded that ?neither the leave letter nor the spreadsheets implicate a privacy right under the PRA.?
In order to fall within the investigative records exemption,? ?the? ?record? ?must? ?inter? ?alia? ??be essential to law enforcement or essential to the protection of privacy.??? The Court ruled that the records? ?released? ?did? ?not? ?qualify?? because? ?the District does not enforce the law, and the records are not private.
The? Court? concluded? that? ?[p]ublic? employees have no privacy right in the fact that they are being investigated by their public employer. The investigation is merely a status of their public employment,?? not?? an?? intimate?? detail?? of?? their personal lives, and without such a privacy right, RCW 42.56.230(3) and .240(1) are inapplicable.? Justice Fairhurst dissented joined by Wiggins, Owens, and McCloud. They would have affirmed the court of appeals decision requiring redactions.
Predisik v. Spokane School District No. 81, 182 Wn.2d 896, 346 P.3d 737 (4/2/15).