Department of Labor Abusing the FOIL Disclosure Exemptions

The Department of Labor fined the Town of Queensbury for not installing a workplace violence policy but the department subsequently reduced the penalty by almost thirty thousand dollars without reason. Travis Whitehead, a concerned citizen, wants to know why.

Luckily there is a method for concerned citizens to obtain public records. In accordance with the law, Travis sent a Freedom of Information Law request to DOL asking for emails regarding the fine reduction. The department did respond, disclosing some records but withholding others. Travis was not told which records were withheld by the department and the department’s claim that these records were somehow exempt made little sense. In the exemption claims, DOL stated that disclosure could harm the competitive position of a private enterprise, yet Mr. Whitehead asked for emails between two public bodies. Perhaps the strangest claim was that disclosure could endanger a person’s life or safety.

GJC sued on Mr. Whitehead’s behalf. Blanket FOIL exemptions abuse the law and more and more agencies seem to be getting into this bad habit. FOIL requires particularized reasons for withholding records as exempt from disclosure. Transparency under FOIL only works if agencies are open and honest and DOL failed completely. It is not the first state agency to do so, nor will it be the last. GJC hopes to set a precedent in this case that will stop further abuses throughout the state.