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FINALLY! The PA Supreme Court Weighs in on Public Employees’ Right to Privacy in Home Addresses

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (“the Supreme Court”) issued its decision regarding a Pennsylvania State Education Association (“PSEA”)-initiated court case regarding requests for employees’ home addresses under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law (“RTKL”). The Supreme Court held that public employees do have a constitutional right to privacy in their home addresses, reversing the Commonwealth Court’s decision.

Therefore, unless a requester provides sufficient information to establish that an identified public interest outweighs a public employee’s privacy interest, or if a requester asks for a public employee’s home address that is in the school district’s possession, deny the request.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the Commonwealth Court’s analysis of and use of Denoncourt v. Com., State Ethics Comm’n, 470 A.2d 945 (Pa. 1983) (plurality) in making its decision below.  Denoncourt involved a constitutional challenge to a statutory provision that required the filing of a statement by every public official, as a condition of holding office, setting forth detailed financial information of not only the public official, but of all the members of his or her immediate family. Id. at 945.  The Court opined that the constitutional right to privacy is not absolute; a proper assessment of privacy claims requires a balancing of “the nature of the privacy right and its important relationship to other basic rights.” The Court found that the government proffered no significant interest or purpose in requiring immediate family members to publicly disclose private financial information. Similarly, requests for public employees’ home addresses must also identify the public interest that outweighs the public employee’s privacy interest.

If you receive a RTKL request that requires you to determine what amounts to sufficient information to establish that the public interest outweighs a public employee’s right, call Stock and Leader’s School Law Group.  We are always here to help, When Decisions Matter.

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