Update: Judge Troncone ruled against the plaintiff and dismissed the complaint. The decision is on-line here. The matter has been appealed and Plaintiff’s opening brief and the Prosecutor’s opposition brief are on-line.
N.J.S.A. 47:1A-10 requires public employers to disclose the following information regarding their employees: “name, title, position, salary, payroll record, length of service, date of separation and the reason therefor, and the amount and type of any pension received.” On September 16, 2016 at 1:30 p.m. Ocean County Superior Court Judge Mark A. Troncone will hear an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) case that seeks to determine how much information a government employer who forces an employee to resign under threat of removal must disclose in response to an OPRA request for the “reason” for the employee’s separation from employment.
After receiving a tip that an employee who worked in the evidence room at the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office (OCPO) was forced to resign after failing a random drug test, Libertarians For Transparent Government, a NJ nonprofit corporation (LFTG) sought the “reason” underlying the employee’s separation from employment. LFTG believed that if it could confirm that the evidence room worker, referred to as “John Doe” in the lawsuit, was fired because of failing a drug test, that fact would be of legitimate interest to the public, particularly criminal defendants who were being prosecuted in Ocean County.
In response to LFTG’s OPRA request, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office disclosed only that John Doe had resigned, provided the effective date of resignation and refused to say whether the resignation was voluntary or compelled. LFTG filed a lawsuit seeking the real reason underlying Doe’s resignation. In her brief, LFTG’s attorney CJ Griffin of Hackensack, argued that it is not sufficient for a government agency to simply say that an employee “resigned” in cases where the resignation was forced by a threat of dismissal.