Connecticut high court rules that reports of teacher misconduct are open record

In a victory for open records, the Connecticut Supreme Court unanimously ruled that reports of misconduct by teachers at state public schools and universities are public records to be released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The high court denied on Monday Dr. Jay Lieberman’s appeal seeking to protect reports produced concerning grievances filed against him. The University of Connecticut Health Center, where Lieberman served as chairman of the department of orthopedic surgery, had originally denied fellow surgeon Dr. Michael Aronow’s request for the reports under exemptions provided in the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act for employment evaluations.

Aronow had filed the initial grievance against Lieberman in September 2011, alleging Liberman was abusive to staff. Lieberman left the health center in 2012.

After the center denied Aronow’s request in late 2013, the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission found in October 2014 that the reports were not exempt from the Freedom of Information Act as “evaluatory” personnel records.

At that point, the University of Connecticut stopped arguing against the release. The Freedom of Information Commission allowed Lieberman to intervene as the respondent to the request.

Lieberman asked the state Supreme Court to establish a “bright line test” in exempting the reports from public disclosure. In other words, any reports that contain any form of performance evaluation would be exempt from disclosure.

But the court did not see the legislative intent for Lieberman’s position that records with any evaluatory content be exempt alongside formal evaluations.

“Rather, as Aronow and the commission assert, the legislative debate in the House of Representatives reflected a tension about whether officially collected evaluations of university faculty performance, particularly student evaluations, required the same level of confidentiality as records of teacher performance and evaluation at the primary and secondary school level,” Justice Dennis Eveleigh wrote.

“Conceivably almost all records relating to a faculty or professional staff member’s employment could include some form of evaluative content,” Eveleigh wrote. “Thus, to adopt Lieberman’s position would make the exception so broad that it would threaten to swallow the general rule of disclosure under the act, as it applies to university faculty and professional staff members.”

Freedom of Information Commission attorney Victor Perpetua said since the commission had determined the records to be public back in 2014, the records Aronow has — which he obtained in the course of litigating — are presumably now public. Now that the records are public, Aronow will be able to use them for purposes other than pursuing his court case.