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Updated 10:00 AM October 25, 2004
 

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Court: Employees' home contact information can remain private


U-M is not required to disclose the home addresses or telephone numbers of University employees who have indicated their preference to keep that information private, according to a court decision.

On Oct. 4, the Washtenaw County Trial Court granted the University's motion for summary disposition in Michigan Federation of Teachers and School Related Personnel, AFT, AFL-CIO vs. University of Michigan. The ruling protects the privacy of employees who have requested their personal information not be published in the faculty and staff directory.

The Michigan Federation of Teachers (MFT) filed a claim of appeal with the court Oct. 20.

"We take privacy concerns very seriously, and our responsibility is particularly important when members of our community have clearly indicated that they consider this information private," says Laurita Thomas, associate vice president and chief human resource officer. "The decision of the court affirmed our actions and our right to protect the confidentiality of our employees' personal information."

MFT submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in January 2004 seeking the names of every person employed by the University in 2003. The request sought additional information, including job titles, job families, department names, work addresses, work phone numbers, wages earned in 2003, and home addresses and home telephone numbers of all employees.

The University complied with the request, but withheld the home addresses and telephone numbers of employees who had not given the University permission to publish their information in the faculty and staff directory. MFT sued the University, objecting to U-M's use of FOIA's "privacy exemption" to withhold those addresses and telephone numbers.

"Clearly, employees who have refused to give the University permission to publish or distribute their home address and telephone number affirmatively demonstrate their belief that this information is of a private nature," the Hon. Timothy P. Connors wrote in his decision. "As to those employees who refused to give permission to the University to publish their home phone numbers and addresses, this Court finds that such information is of a personal nature."

"The court agreed with the University that information regarding personal home phone numbers and addresses is personal information, and is an intimate detail of an individual's private life," says Debra Kowich, assistant general counsel who represented the University in the lawsuit. "The court also said disclosure of the information would not further the purpose of the FOIA—it would not contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of government."

According to the Human Resources and Affirmative Action office, almost 17,000 active University employees have requested their information not be published.

Faculty and staff who want to change the current publish/do not publish designation of their home address and telephone number information can do so online through Wolverine Access, http://wolverineaccess.umich.edu.

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