Public agencies must reveal the names of employees accused of sexual harassment even if the allegation was not substantiated, the state attorney general’s office ruled in an open records decision issued last week.
The ruling followed an appeal of the Kentucky Labor Cabinet’s response to a records request filed by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. The attorney general’s office ruled that the cabinet violated the Open Records Act by withholding the name of an employee whose alleged sexual harassment of a co-worker wasn’t substantiated.
The Kentucky Labor Cabinet refused to release the name of an employee accused in 2016, saying that the employee’s privacy outweighed the public interest.
“The public’s interest in monitoring agency action outweighed the privacy interest of the employee who was exonerated of misconduct,” said assistant attorney general Gordon Slone in the decision.
Slone also noted that the public should be able to know whether an agency disciplined or exonerated an employee.
An attorney for the Kentucky Labor Cabinet didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday morning.
Last fall, KyCIR requested documents related to sexual harassment complaints, investigations and subsequent discipline from more than 30 state agencies. Our investigation found that the responses to the request varied wildly, and the Kentucky Labor Cabinet was one of several agencies that refused to share names in unsubstantiated cases.
The attorney general’s office also redacted the name of an employee there who was accused of sexual harassment. Records custodian Taylor Payne said in early March that he stood by that decision. He didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
KyCIR’s investigation found that state investigators are less likely to conclude that sexual harassment occurred than to substantiate a case.
Of 130 sexual harassment complaints filed by state employees in the last five years and reviewed by KyCIR, state officials disagreed that the behavior constituted sexual harassment in more than half the cases.
The attorney general’s decision also found that state agencies can protect the identity of a person who alleges sexual harassment — whether or not the investigators conclude that sexual harassment occurred.
Contact Kate Howard at firstname.lastname@example.org or (502) 814.6546.