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COA: Names in workforce development cases aren't confidential

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From now on, the Indiana Court of Appeals will publish full names of parties on workforce development review board cases after determining state statute doesn’t require those to be kept confidential in public court records.

A three-judge panel addressed that issue in Friday’s ruling in LaDon A. Moore v. Review Board of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development and Whitington Homes and Services, No. 93A02-1005-EX-529.

The case involves LaDon A. Moore, who worked as program manager at Whitington Homes and Services for Families and Children starting in May 2004 before she was eventually terminated in September 2009 because of repeated warnings about her work behavior. The human resources manager had verbally warned Moore in May 2008 about complaints from co-workers that her behavior was rude and disrespectful, instead of being open, polite and accommodating. A written warning came less than a year later and the second written disciplinary warning came in September 2009, notifying her that any future issues would result in her immediate termination. Four days later, Moore received a third warning that resulted in her dismissal.

A workforce development administrative law judge concluded that Moore was discharged for cause and the review board agreed and affirmed the ALJ’s decision.

Moore appealed pro se challenging the evidence as insufficient, and the appellate court determined the ALJ’s decision should be affirmed because the Whitington’s rule on employment was reasonable and uniformly enforced and because Moore lacked evidence rebutting Whitington’s case.

But in the course of the appeal, the review board filed a motion to publish the names of the parties not only in this specific case but also all future cases workforce development appeals. Specifically, the review board contends that it’s difficult to administer the high volume of cases in the appellate system where the people’s names and employing units are not disclosed, and that it’s too inefficient and time-consuming to rely on cause numbers through the Appellate Clerk’s Online Docket.

“The Review Board contends that although Indiana Code section 22-4-19-6 protects unemployment records from public access and from use while that information resides with the Department, the names of individuals and employing units need not be kept confidential in actions involving the court system in an otherwise public proceeding. We agree,” wrote Judge John Baker.

Looking at the state statute that’s been mostly unchanged since 1947, the appeals court noted that the initials-only practice began following Jan. 1, 2010, amendments to Administrative Rule 9(G) that governs public access to court records. The court rule incorporated a reference to I.C. 22-4-19-6, and since then, 16 reported cases involving the review board have come from the Court of Appeals – four used the person’s full name. This amendment has led some to believe the courts are now required to keep the names of parties confidential on appeal, while others disagree.

The appeals judges determined it contains an exception for court orders and even another Administrative Rule 9(G) provision says that the courts may disclose names “as essential to the resolution of litigation or appropriate to further the establishment of precedent or the development of law.” Initials only can make it more difficult for legal searches on precedent and make cases virtually indistinguishable from another, the court determined.

“In sum, Administrative Rule 9(G) merely incorporated Section 22-4-19-6 as it had been interpreted for decades,” Judge Baker wrote. “With that in mind, reading the authority granted by Administrative Rule 9(G)(9)(d) together with section 22-3-19-6(b)’s exception for court orders and considering the Review Board’s interpretation of its own obligations under the statute as well as the interpretation of the statutes by the Indiana Supreme Court and this Court in countless cases for over sixty years, we believe it is appropriate for this Court to use the full names of parties in routine appeals from the Review Board.”

 

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