Courts Order Release of Public Employee Retirement Information
October 13, 2011 by Beeson Tayer & Bodine
In three cases this year, California Courts of Appeal have ruled the California Public Records Act (CPRA) requires county employee retirement systems to disclose pension recipient names and the benefits amount received by retirees. Each court concluded a retiree’s right to financial privacy does not outweigh the public interest in disclosure.
In the first case, The Sacramento Bee and the First Amendment Coalition petitioned to compel the Sacramento County Employees’ Retirement System to release the amount of pension benefit payments for certain retirees in the interest of government transparency. (Sacramento County Employees’ Retirement System v. Superior Court (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 440.) The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s holding that pension benefit amounts and the names of retiree beneficiaries were not exempt from public disclosure under CPRA. The court concluded that public employees enjoy a right to privacy in information filed with the county by members— including home and email addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers, and a spouse’s name— and information about members filed by others on their behalf—such as contribution amounts and medical reports. However, it found no right to privacy in information required to carry out the governmental function of calculating and paying benefits. The court concluded CPRA required disclosure of a member’s name, monthly pension benefit figure, retirement date, years served, department retired from, last position held, base allowance, cost of living adjustment, and total health allowance. Additionally, the court held that retirees are not entitled to individual notice before their pensions are revealed.
The court issued a similar decision in a case filed in San Diego, San Diego County Employees Retirement Assn. v. Superior Court (2011) 196 Cal.App.4th 1228. That court also concluded the County Employees Retirement Law does not exempt retiree names from disclosure.
Finally, in Sonoma County Employees’ Retirement Ass’n v. Superior Court (2011) 198 Cal.App.4th 986, the court ruled the retirement association was required to disclose pension recipient names and amounts received. The court, however, concluded the association was not required to divulge the retirement age of its beneficiaries.
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