Judge’s Ruling Grants Temporary Restraining Order Protecting State Employees

State employees Friday won a victory through OPEA and the Oklahoma State Troopers Association in keeping their birth dates from becoming a matter of public record. In Oklahoma County District Court, Judge Bryan Dixon ruled to grant OPEA and OSTA a temporary restraining order that will prevent the release of their confidential information.

OPEA members, state agency representatives, Highway patrol troopers, and state legislators filled a packed courtroom that also included Oklahoman reporters and photographers, as well as the newspaper’s editor, Ed Kelley. Outside the doors, television camera rolled as reporters waited to hear the Court’s order.

“This is a significant win for our members, and all 40,000 state employees,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley. “We stepped up to the plate on this issue because we believe in protecting the rights of our state’s workforce. In fact, it’s not just employee’s rights for which we are crusading, but their very safety. I have said it before: a person’s date of birth is the one key that could unlock the door to not only identity theft and fraud, but could affect their safety and that of their family if someone is looking to do them harm. That’s why we fought so tirelessly on this issue.”

Judge Dixon’s ruling grants an indefinite temporary restraining order allowing state agencies to continue the process of notifying every single employee, advising them of their right to object to the release of their personal information, including their dates of birth. Specifically, the order issued by the Court effectively enjoins the OPM from releasing the birth dates of all State employees at this time.

“There is just no way to know how long that will take,” said OPEA Grievance Coordinator Clyde McLendon. “You take the largest agency, DHS for example. They must notify every employee, collect that data and then report that information. It could be a very lengthy process.”

Meanwhile, legislation is making its way through the Capitol that would put a statute into law permanently restricting state employee’s birthdates from being made public.
SB 1753, authored by Senator Debbe Leftwich and sponsored in the House by Representative Randy Terrill, passed out of a House committee on Thursday.

“The legislature has some work to do on the language,” said OPEA Deputy Director Scott Barger, but we believe it will go to the House floor for a vote within a couple of weeks. OPEA is adamant that this bill pass. There is absolutely no reason this information needs to be released. The Oklahoman, (who requested documents on all 40,000 state workers) is simply on a data mining expedition and a witch hunt. We were very fortunate today the judge granted this temporary restraining order. That will give us, every agency and every employee time to follow the processes set by law to protect ourselves, our privacy and our safety.”

“This is an important victory for state employees and all Oklahoma citizens,” said Leftwich. “Once the genie is out of the bottle, you can’t put it back in. Had the court allowed the mass release of all state employees’ birthdates, that information would have remained a public record forever – even long after a person has left state employment. There is nothing in place to govern how long someone could hold onto that personal information or what they could use it for.”

“This was a win for both the privacy and safety interests of state employees, as well as the public interest,” said Terrill. “All along we have said that if there are specific allegations of corruption or wrongdoing, we do not have a problem allowing the press to contact state agencies to verify a person’s identity. What we have strongly objected to is the mass release of all state employees’ birthdates because that would invade the privacy and safety interests of Oklahoma citizens while also raising serious due-process and equal-protection concerns without serving any legitimate public interest need.”

Earlier this week, representatives of virtually every major law enforcement entity in Oklahoma announced their opposition to the blanket release of all state employees’ birthdates. Experts at those agencies noted that providing state employees’ full names and birthdates to anyone filing a request could make it easier for criminals, gangs and drug cartels to identify and track down law enforcement personnel and their families.

A recent study paper published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that an individual’s birth date, when combined with other identifying data, can allow thieves to accurately predict an individual’s Social Security number and steal his or her identity.

In spite of published claims to the contrary, this week The Oklahoman broke its pledge and published more than 100 state employees’ names and birthdates that it had previously obtained from the Office of the Attorney General.

Related News