In November 2021, a reporter submitted a FOIA request to the City of Chicago Department of Human Resources (Department) seeking disciplinary records and complaints of racism, harassment, and discrimination filed against City employees. The Department released some redacted records, but withheld the remaining records citing the personal privacy and deliberative process exemptions. After the reporter appealed the partial denial to the PAC, the PAC issued its fifth binding opinion of the year concluding that the Department violated FOIA by improperly withholding responsive records. PAC Op. 22-005.

Specifically, the PAC found that disclosing most of the withheld complaints would not constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of any City employee’s right to personal privacy because the public has a significant interest in obtaining information that sheds light on claims of misconduct by public employees. The PAC also noted that complaints alleging workplace misconduct by City employees, even if the complaints are later deemed unfounded, still pertain to the public duties of public employees and, as a result, disclosing these complaints would not result in a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy to the City employees.

Additionally, the PAC determined that the Department failed to show how the complaints revealed the Department’s predecisional deliberative process. Although complaints may lead to deliberate discussions culminating in final actions, the PAC found that the complaints in this case were not part of a deliberative process because they preceded the decision-making process. The PAC also found that the complaints were factual in nature and purely factual information is not exempt from disclosure under exemption 7(1)(f).

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink