A Yakima Superior Court judge found Yakima School District employee and applicant drug screening documents are exempt from the Public Records Act.
Judge Blaine Gibson said Wednesday during a hearing that the records were exempt from public release because they were part of an application for employment with the state. A health record exemption could also be applied to the drug screening results, he said.
The state’s Public Records Act has an exemption for “all applications for public employment other than for vacancies in elective office, including the names of applicants, resumes, and other related materials submitted with respect to an applicant.” An additional exemption applies to “public inspection and copying of health care information of patients.”
In November 2018, Andrew Magee filed a public records request asking the school district for all records related to drug testing imposed on district applicants, according to court documents. Magee is an attorney representing a job applicant suing the district in a separate civil case involving the district’s drug testing procedures.
The district released three installments of the drug testing records to avoid violating state public records rules, it said, and sought a court ruling to avoid releasing the remaining 30 installments.
Magee argued that the district had waived its opportunity to apply an exemption by not stating an exemption within five days under the Public Records Act, and by releasing installments of the same record before requesting the summary judgment.
But Gibson ruled against that, stating that the district did not have the right to waive individuals’ protection rights.
“Here’s why the waiver of exemption argument shouldn’t apply: Because the people who would be harmed by (the records release) are the people who should have had the benefit of the exemption,” said Gibson. “I don’t think that the court will say, ‘Well, now the school district is forced to disclose hundreds and hundreds of documents that should have been claimed as exempt and thus hurting many many … innocent people.”
Gibson added that if the district had released documents it should not have, it might have a liability to the people whose pre-employment and health records were released.
“But at least now it’s taken the step to stop that process so at least nobody else gets hurt,” Gibson said.
Magee asked the judge to allow him to contact the individuals whose confidential information had already been released to him, which he said the district is required to do for having breached their confidentiality, and asked what to do with the hundreds of pages of private documents in his possession. The judge refused to comment, calling the question legal advice independent of the matter in court.
Magee said he is considering bringing the issue to the judge in a separate lawsuit active in U.S. District Court.
In that case, Magee represents a job applicant to the school district who declined to take a pre-employment drug screening test. The lawsuit alleges the requirement violates the state constitution. The district said the employment offer was rescinded for another reason.