FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
In the Matter of a Complaint by Final Decision
against Docket #FIC 92-181 and Docket #FIC 92-352
Manchester Community College,
Respondent May 26, 1993
The above-captioned matters were consolidated and heard as contested cases on December 2, 1992 and January 19, 1993, at which time the complainant and the respondent appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. Jerry Edelwich, the subject of the records described in paragraph 17 of the findings, below, appeared and was made a party to these proceedings. Following the January 19, 1993 hearing, the respondent submitted to the Commission for in camera inspection the documents described in paragraph 17 of the findings, below.
After consideration of the entire record, the following facts are found and conclusions of law are reached:
1. The respondent is a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.
2. By letter of complaint filed May 27, 1992 and docketed as FIC 92-181, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that her April 10, 1992 request for certain information concerning the investigation of a sexual harassment complaint made by her had been denied.
3. By letter of complaint filed December 23, 1992 and docketed as FIC 92-352, the complainant again appealed to the Commission, alleging that her December 4, 1992 request for certain records had been denied by the respondent on December 18, 1992.
4. It is found that the complainant at all times relevant to this matter was a student in the Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Counseling ("DARC") program at the respondent Manchester Community College.
5. It is also found that the complainant was a student of Jerry Edelwich, an instructor in the DARC program at the college.
6. It is found that the complainant filed a complaint on October 10, 1991 accusing Edelwich of "sexual and mental harassment," reciting a detailed sequence of events from February through September 1990.
Docket #FIC 92-181 & Docket #FIC 92-352 Page 2
7. It is found that Ms. Lovley alleged that Edelwich had harassed her sexually by making verbal and physical advances, and by offering a favorable grade in return for sexual favors.
8. It is also found that Ms. Lovley also alleged instances of misrepresentation by Edelwich of his position, and use of his position for personal gain.
9. It is found that the respondent responded to the complainant's complaint of sexual harassment by letter dated December 20, 1992, indicating that "the matter has been investigated and appropriate action is being taken."
10. It is found that the complainant was not satisfied with the respondent's December 20, 1992 response, and on April 10, 1992 requested through her attorney copies of all documentation connected with the respondent's investigation, as well as a detailed report of the actions that had been taken in the matter.
11. It is found that the respondent by letter dated May 8, 1992 indicated that its investigation of her complaint was concluded and a formal reprimand had been issued "for a range of inappropriate conduct," but refused to disclose any details of the investigation or the contents of the reprimand.
12. It is found that the complainant by letter dated December 4, 1992 expanded her request to include copies of "all documents, reports and memoranda concerning disciplinary complaints, charges and action against instructor Jerry Edelwich, including any such documentation contained within the administration office of the Drug and Alcohol Counseling Program, in college personnel, grievance and professional files of Mr. Edelwich, or in the files of the Board of Trustees."
13. It is found that the respondent by letter dated December 8, 1992, provided the complainant with copies of a December 18, 1991 letter to Mr. Edelwich confirming a meeting to be held concerning Mr. Edelwich; a summary of a December 19, 1991 meeting held with and concerning Mr. Edelwich; and a December 23, 1991 letter of reprimand to Mr. Edelwich.
14. It is found that the letter of reprimand does not discipline Mr. Edelwich for any of the specific claims that the complainant made against him.
15. It is also found that the respondent in its December 8, 1992 letter refused to provide any other documents, based on its determination that the charges against Mr. Edelwich were not substantiated, discipline was not taken, and that therefore release of the documents requested would constitute an invasion of personal privacy.
Docket #FIC 92-181 & Docket #FIC 92-352 Page 3
16. It is found that the respondent notified Mr. Edelwich of the complainant's request, and that Mr. Edelwich objected in writing to disclosure of the requested documents on December 10, 1992.
17. It is found that the documents submitted to the Commission for in camera inspection consist of copies of:
a. A memorandum dated December 12, 1991 to Jonathan Daube [president of the college] from Luene Corwin [dean of academic affairs], consisting of a chronology of events relating to complaints against Mr. Edelwich from 1987 through 1991; numbered as in camera documents 92-352-1 and 92-352-4.
b. An interdepartmental message dated December 10, 1991 to Dr. Corwin from John Reed [director of the DARC program] concerning complaints made to him by students about Mr. Edelwich on December 6, 1991, and his response the following day; numbered as in camera documents 92-352-2 and 92-352-3.
c. A memorandum dated December 12, 1991 to Jonathan Daube from Alfred L. Carter, Dean of Students Affairs, enclosing his complete report on the complaint against Mr. Edelwich, with supporting information and documents; numbered as in camera document 92-352-5.
d. The message side of a postcard from Mr. Edelwich to the complainant; numbered as in camera documents 92-352-6.
e. The complainant's October 10, 1991 complaint [described in paragraph 6 of the findings, above]; numbered as in camera documents 92-352-7 through 92-352-11.
f. Alfred Carter's notes of an October 25, 1991 meeting with the complainant and Marie Salamon [director of personnel and contract administration], relating the complainant's account of past incidents relating to Mr. Edelwich; numbered as in camera documents 92-352-12 and 92-352-13.
Docket #FIC 92-181 & Docket #FIC 92-352 Page 4
g. Notes dated December 6, 1991 by Marie Salamon of a December 5, 1991 meeting concerning the complaint against Mr. Edelwich, with Mark Fonda, director of the division of mathematics, science and allied health; Alfred Carter, and Marie Salamon; and a December 6, 1991 meeting concerning Mr. Edelwich with John Reed, director of the DARC program, Alfred Carter, and Marie Salamon; numbered as in camera documents 92-352-14 and 92-352-15.
h. A summary dated November 5, 1991 by Marie Salamon of an October 25, 1991 meeting concerning the complaint against Mr. Edelwich, with the complainant, Marie Salamon and Alfred Carter; numbered as in camera documents 92-352-16 and 92-352-17.
i. A summary dated December 11, 1991 by Marie Salamon of a December 10, 1991 meeting concerning the complaint against Mr. Edelwich, with Mr. Edelwich, Alfred Carter and Marie Salamon; numbered as in camera documents 92-352-18 and 92-352-19.
j. A memorandum of understanding executed May 4, 1992 by Jerry Edelwich, and May 5, 1992 by Jonathan Daube and a union representative, concerning the treatment and retention of the letter of reprimand referenced in paragraph 12 of the findings, above; numbered as in camera documents 92-352-20.
k. An undated interdepartment message to J. Daube from J. Edelwich requesting an opportunity to review the results of the investigation of sexual harassment charges against him; numbered as in camera document 92-352-21.
l. A memorandum dated May 13, 1987 from the chair of the social science department at Tunxis Community College to the associate dean of instruction, concerning complaints against Edelwich and another DARC instructor; numbered as in camera document 92-352-22;
m. A memorandum from Mario Fiendella to Mr. Edelwich scheduling a November 14, 1988 meeting concerning student classroom complaints; numbered as in camera document 92-352-23.
Docket #FIC 92-181 & Docket #FIC 92-352 Page 5
n. A memorandum dated October 11, 1989 from Luene Corwin to Mario Fiendella concerning complaints against Mr. Edelwich relayed over the telephone from academic dean Michael Meyer at Tunxis Community College; numbered as in camera document 92-352-24.
o. A memorandum dated October 18, 1989 from Michael Meyer to Dr. Luene Corwin, following up the telephone conversation referenced in paragraph 17.n, above; numbered as in camera document 92-352-25.
p. A letter dated February 3, 1992 from Mr. Edelwich to Dr. Daube responding to the December 23, 1991 letter of reprimand referenced in paragraph 13, above; numbered as in camera document 92-352-26.
q. A letter dated February 21, 1992 from Dr. Daube to Mr. Edelwich responding to Mr. Edelwich's February 3 letter (referenced in paragraph 17.p, above); numbered as in camera document 92-352-27.
r. Another letter dated February 21, 1992 from Dr. Daube to Mr. Edelwich, also responding to Mr. Edelwich's February 3 letter (referenced in paragraph 17.p, above) but in detail; numbered as in camera documents 92-352-28 and 92-352-29.
s. A letter dated December 20, 1991 from Dr. Daube to the complainant, informing her of the outcome of the investigation of her complaint; numbered as in camera document 92-352-30.
t. Three pages of typed notes regarding Mr. Edelwich for the December 19, 1991 meeting (referenced in paragraph 13, above); numbered as in camera documents 92-352-31 through 92-352-33.
18. It is concluded that the records described in paragraph 17, above, are public records within the meaning of 1-18a(d) and 1-19(a), G.S.
19. The respondent maintains that the records described in paragraph 17, above, are exempt from disclosure pursuant to 1-19(b)(2), G.S., as information contained in a personnel, medical or similar file, the disclosure of which would constitute an invasion of personal privacy.
20. It is concluded that the records described in paragraph 17, above, are contained in personnel or similar files within the meaning of 1-19(b)(2), G.S.
Docket #FIC 92-181 & Docket #FIC 92-352 Page 6
21. Mr. Edelwich maintains that disclosure of the records described in paragraph 17, above, would be devastating to him, his family, and his friends; would dilute his professional credibility; and would affect his ability to perform as a professional.
22. It is found that Mr. Edelwich received no assurances from the respondent that the complaint against him would remain confidential, or that the investigation of that complaint was confidential.
23. It is found that the only detailed and potentially embarrassing documents concerning Mr. Edelwich are the complainant's October 10, 1991 complaint against him (as referenced in paragraph 6, above), and the December 23, 1991 letter of reprimand (as referenced in paragraphs 13 and 14, above) which records are available to the public.
24. It is found that none of the documents described in paragraph 17, above, is likely to cause Mr. Edelwich any significant embarassment beyond what he has already suffered as a result of the disclosure of the complainant's October 21, 1991 complaint and the respondent's December 23, 1991 letter of reprimand.
25. It is found that the letter of reprimand recites a pattern of complaints about events from 1987 through 1991, concerning prior instances of inappropriate treatment of female students, use of objectionable language, references to sex, abusiveness toward students, misrepresentation of his position and authority, and selling his books during class.
26. It is found that the letter of reprimand to Mr. Edelwich directs him to take corrective behavior in several areas, the first of which is:
[Y]our demeanor and interactions with students should reflect the nature of your professional position and must not include the use of sexual innuendo and other inappropriate language which is seen as harassing and offensive by many students, especially women ....
27. It is also found that the documents submitted for in camera inspection which substantiate the fact of past complaints by students are no more embarrassing than the respondent's letter of reprimand, which states in relevant part:
As a result of investigating the above matters it is clear that there has been a pattern of student complaints over several years, from several campuses and from male as well as female students, that you have represented yourself as heading the DARC Program
Docket #FIC 92-181 & Docket #FIC 92-352 Page 7
with substantial influence on admissions, grades and job placement; you represent your Reality Therapy Workshops, the fee for which is $275, as desirable for students to attend, which has the effect of inappropriately pressuring them; you have continued to sell your books in class after being told not to; you have continued to use obscenities in class despite several warnings on this subject; and you have continued to demonstrate inappropriate behavior vis-a-vis female students.
28. However, the respondent maintains that although Mr. Edelwich was disciplined as a result of an investigation that grew out of the complainant's complaint, the discipline was unrelated to the allegations of her complaint.
29. The respondent further maintains that the investigation broadened to issues beyond those raised by the complainant, that the complainant's allegations could not be fully substantiated, and that her complaint did not form the basis for the discipline taken by the respondent against Mr. Edelwich.
30. It is found that although the respondent's investigation was in fact initiated as a result of the complainant's complaint, and that the respondent disciplined Mr. Edelwich for behavior similar to that alleged by the complainant, the respondent nonetheless declined to take any action based upon Ms. Lovely's specific allegations, and instead disciplined Mr. Edelwich for a "pattern of student complaints over several years" which were brought to light as a result of Ms. Lovley's complaint.
31. It is found that while all of the documents described in paragraph 17, above, are within the scope of the complainant's requests, none of the documents actually reveals the respondent's decision making process in dismissing her specific complaint.
32. It is concluded that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in information that substantiates disciplinary action against a public employee for the behavior described in this case, regardless of whether the complainant's specific allegations of harassment were dismissed.
33. It is found that the information contained in the investigative file that vindicates Mr. Edelwich and did not form the basis for disciplinary action cannot reasonably be seen as embarassing to him.
Docket #FIC 92-181 & Docket #FIC 92-352 Page 8
34. It is concluded that there is no reasonable of expectation of privacy in information that reveals principally how well an agency does its job in investigating complaints against public employees, and whether the evidence collected supports the agency's conclusions and actions.
35. The Commission also takes administrative notice of the fact that society holds its teachers, more than most other public employees, to a high standard of conduct in their dealings with students, both in and out of the classroom.
36. In sum, it is concluded that disclosure of the information contained in the records described in paragraph 17, above, would not constitute an invasion of personal privacy because of (a) the lack of assurances of confidentiality, (b) the lack of embarassing detail in anything but the actual complaint and the reprimand issued, both of which are available to the public, (c) a recognition that information that vindicates the subject of the complaint is not inherently embarassing, (d) a reasonable expectation that information that substantiates a complaint and leads to discipline not be confidential, (e) a reasonable expectation that information that reveals principally how well an agency does its job in responding to complaints against public employees not be confidential, and (f) a reasonable expectation that teachers are held to a higher standard of conduct than most public employees.
37. It is therefore concluded that none of the documents described in paragraph 17, above, is exempt from disclosure pursuant to 1-19(b)(2), G.S., and that the respondent violated 1-15 and 1-19, G.S., by refusing to promptly provide any documents to the complainant in response to her April 10, 1992 request, and by providing only limited documents (as described in paragraph 13, above) in response to her December 4, 1992 request.
The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:
1. The respondent shall forthwith provide to the complainant, at no cost to the complainant, copies of the records described in paragraph 17 of the findings, above.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of May 26, 1993.
Debra L. Rembowski
Acting Clerk of the Commission
Docket #FIC 92-181 & Docket #FIC 92-352 Page 9
PURSUANT TO SECTION 4-180(c), G.S. THE FOLLOWING ARE THE NAMES OF EACH PARTY AND THE MOST RECENT MAILING ADDRESS, PROVIDED TO THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION, OF THE PARTIES OR THEIR AUTHORIZED REPRESENTATIVE.
THE PARTIES TO THIS CONTESTED CASE ARE:
c/o Atty. Jon Schoenhorn
97 Oak Street
Hartford, CT 06106-1515
Manchester Community College
c/o Laurie A. Deane, Assistant Attorney General
110 Sherman Street
Hartford, CT 06105
c/o Atty. Jamie L. Mills
Rosenblatt & Mills
10 North Main Street
West Hartford, CT 06107-1988
Debra L. Rembowski
Acting Clerk of the Commission