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April 6, 2000

Ms. Margaret A. Roll
Assistant General Counsel
Texas Department of Human Services
P.O. Box 149030
Austin, Texas 78714-9030

OR2000-1326

Dear Ms. Roll:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 135181.

The Texas Department of Human Services (the "department") received a request for information related to the reprimand of the requestor. You assert that you have released some of the information to the requestor. You claim that portions of the requested information are excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information.

You assert that the identity of the victim of sexual harassment is protected by common law privacy.(1) Section 552.101 of the Government Code protects "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision," including information protected by the common law right of privacy. Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668, 683-85 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). The doctrine of common law privacy protects information that contains highly intimate or embarrassing facts about a person's private affairs such that its release would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person and the information must be of no legitimate concern to the public. Id. We agree that the identity of a sexual harassment victim is protected under common law privacy. See Morales v. Ellen, 840 S.W.2d 519 (Tex. App.-El Paso 1992, writ denied) (concluding that identities of victims of sexual harassment and witnesses are protected by common law privacy). Thus, you must withhold the marked information.(2)

This letter ruling is limited to the particular records at issue in this request and limited to the facts as presented to us; therefore, this ruling must not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records or any other circumstances.

This ruling triggers important deadlines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the governmental body and of the requestor. For example, governmental bodies are prohibited from asking the attorney general to reconsider this ruling. Gov't Code 552.301(f). If the governmental body wants to challenge this ruling, the governmental body must appeal by filing suit in Travis County within 30 calendar days. Id. 552.324(b). In order to get the full benefit of such an appeal, the governmental body must file suit within 10 calendar days. Id. 552.353(b)(3), (c). If the governmental body does not appeal this ruling and the governmental body does not comply with it, then both the requestor and the attorney general have the right to file suit against the governmental body to enforce this ruling. Id. 552.321(a).

If this ruling requires the governmental body to release all or part of the requested information, the governmental body is responsible for taking the next step. Based on the statute, the attorney general expects that, within 10 calendar days of this ruling, the governmental body will do one of the following three things: 1) release the public records; 2) notify the requestor of the exact day, time, and place that copies of the records will be provided or that the records can be inspected; or 3) notify the requestor of the governmental body's intent to challenge this letter ruling in court. If the governmental body fails to do one of these three things within 10 calendar days of this ruling, then the requestor should report that failure to the attorney general's Open Government Hotline, toll free, at 877/673-6839. The requestor may also file a complaint with the district or county attorney. Id. 552.3215(e).

If this ruling requires or permits the governmental body to withhold all or some of the requested information, the requestor can appeal that decision by suing the governmental body. Id. 552.321(a); Texas Department of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408, 411 (Tex. App.-Austin 1992, no writ).

If the governmental body, the requestor, or any other person has questions or comments about this ruling, they may contact our office. Although there is no statutory deadline for contacting us, the attorney general prefers to receive any comments within 10 calendar days of the date of this ruling.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Bialek
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

JHB/ch

Ref: ID# 135181

Encl. Marked documents

cc: Ms. Mary Lou Ruiz
P.O. Box 2535
Mission, Texas 78573
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

1. The submitted documents pertain to the requestor's reprimand which involved her handling of a sexual harassment allegation.

2. We have marked some additional instances of the victim's name.
 

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