Plaintiff was a teacher in the Riverside School District.? ?After affording the Plaintiff statutory due process,? he was? terminated? from employment for having sex with a former student in a classroom. ?A reporter from the Spokesman- Review submitted a public records request concerning the details of Plaintiff?s termination from employment. ?The School District informed the? Plaintiff? of ?the? request, ?and ?Plaintiff ?then filed a lawsuit to enjoin the disclosure. ?The trial court ?ordered ?the ?disclosure ?and ?the ?Plaintiff appealed.
The Court ruled that [?a] party seeking to enjoin production of documents under the PRA bears the burden of proving that an exemption to the statute prohibits production in whole or part.? Exemptions under the PRA are to be narrowly construed to assure that the public interest will be protected. ?RCW 42.56.030. ?The Plaintiff claimed that two exemptions to the PRA applied: RCW 42.56.230(3) exempts disclosure? of? “[p]ersonal information in files maintained for employees . . . of any public agency to the extent that disclosure would violate their right to privacy.”
RCW 42.56.240(1) exempts from public inspection and copying specific investigative records compiled by investigative agencies, the nondisclosure of which is essential to the protection of any person’s right to privacy. The Court explained that under the PRA, a person’s right to privacy “is invaded or violated only if disclosure of information about the person: (1) Would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and (2) is not of legitimate concern to the public.” ?RCW 42.56.050 (emphasis added). ?It is not enough that the disclosure of personal information? ?may?? cause? ?embarrassment? ?to? ?the public official or others. RCW 42.56.550(3). ?Even if the disclosure of the information would be offensive to the employee, it shall be disclosed if there is a legitimate or reasonable public interest in the disclosure.
“[W]hen a complaint regarding misconduct during the course of public employment is substantiated or results in some sort of discipline, an employee does not have a right to privacy in the complaint.”?? (Citing Bellevue John Does 1-11 v. Bellevue Sch. Dist. No. 405, 164 Wn.2d 199, 215, 189 P.3d 139 (2008)). ?However, teachers have a right to privacy in their identities when the complaint involves unsubstantiated or false allegations because these allegations concern matters ?involving? the ?private ?lives ?of ?teachers and are not specific instances of misconduct during the course of employment.? Id.
The Court ruled that the records were properly disclosed.?? ?The? Court ?concluded ?that there existed substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct. ?Moreover, the former teacher failed to establish that his right to privacy because the public has a legitimate interest in the disclosure of Plaintiff?s identity; ?even when allegations of misconduct are unsubstantiated, the public may have a legitimate concern in the nature of the allegation and the response of the school system to the allegation.?
Martin v. Riverside School District No. 416., 179
Wn. ?App. ?1018, ?— ?P.3d ?— ?(1/30/14; ?pub. 4/2014) (Kulik, Brown, Fearing).