Sexual harassment and discrimination claims are all too common these days – so common, in fact, that it would seem like such cases should fall more in the “old news” category than in the “breaking news story” category. However, some Texas sexual harassment cases are still making the news, especially if a public figure is involved or if the details are such that the media believes the public would be particularly interested.
In such situations, an issue may arise as to what – if any – information an investigative reporter (or anyone else for that matter) is entitled to know. With regard to public employers (such as schools and universities), it may take a court’s assistance in order to determine what information must be revealed – and which must be kept away from public consumption.
Facts of the Case
A recent appellate court case involved a dispute between an independent school district and the Texas Attorney General’s office. The case arose as a result of a disagreement regarding whether the school district had to release a certain document (which included, among other things, information regarding complaints of workplace harassment, alleged acts of discrimination, romantic affairs between district employees, and investigations conducted by child protective services). The information had been requested by a news reporter under the Texas Public Information Act.
The district court of Travis County entered a summary and declaratory final judgment to the effect that the document that the school district sought to withhold had to be released to the public as requested. According to the district court, the exceptions claimed by the school district under the Act did not apply. The school district appealed the district court’s decision.
Decision of the Court
The Texas Court of Appeals for the Third District affirmed the trial court’s judgment. The court first recognized that information concerning workplace harassment and discrimination, whether founded or unfounded, did not typically involve the constitutional rights of the alleged perpetrator. The court also noted that, under the Act, individuals (including the reporter who initially requested the information at issue) were entitled to “complete information” about both the goings-on of the government itself and the official acts of public officials and employees. If a governmental body sought to withhold information under an alleged exception to the Act, that governmental entity had to request a decision from the state Attorney General. (Here, the Attorney General was of the opinion that no exception applied, thus prompting the school district’s request for declaratory relief in district court.)
The appellate court went on to reject the school district’s arguments that the information sought by the reporter was exempt from disclosure because it was part of a deliberation process, was entitled to a work product privilege, could not be disclosed due to the constitutional rights of privacy enjoyed by the district’s employees, was protected under common law privacy rulings, should not be disclosed due to pending litigation, and/or was protected by attorney-client privilege. The court of appeals having found no legitimate reason for the school district to refuse disclosure of information concerning alleged workplace harassment, employee romances, or other information sought by the reporter, the school district was ordered to comply with the request made to it under the Act.
Get Legal Advice from a Dallas Employment Law Attorney
If you need more information about whether to disclose information concerning an alleged incident of sexual harassment or discrimination, including information revealed in an internal investigation, the Dallas employment law firm of Key Harrington Barnes can help. Call us at 214-615-7925 to schedule an appointment. Our office also handles employment law litigation, estate planning, government regulation, real estate law, and union relations.
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