Fracaro v. Priddy, 514 F. Supp. 191 (M.D.N.C. 1981)

Employment case involving a DSS employee's disclosure of information to the media about a child welfare case. 
"The defendants claim that Mrs. Fracaro's termination resulted from the invocation of a rule derived from state law which prohibits the dissemination of confidential information. Mrs. Fracaro's alleged breach of a confidentiality rule does not eliminate the need for a Pickering — type analysis, however. In order to justify the application of a confidentiality rule in this case, the defendant Priddy must show a state interest in confidentiality applicable on these facts which outweighs the public and individual interests in the particular statements made. Hanneman v. Breier, 528 F.2d 750, 754 (7th Cir. 1976). Moreover, whether any "confidential" information was disclosed is open to question when construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. The state law in question makes it unlawful to disclose "any list of names or other information concerning persons applying for or receiving public assistance that may be directly or indirectly derived from the records, files or communications of the Department of Human Resources or the county boards of social services, or acquired in the course of performing official duties...." N.C.Gen.Stat. § 108-45(a). Clearly, Mrs. Fracaro's comments on the June 26 broadcast were general criticisms about the "dereliction of duty" by services personnel. It is also clear that the intent of the law is to protect the confidentiality of recipients of public assistance, and not to shield public officeholders from criticism. As to the comments on the June 23 broadcast, Mrs. Fracaro contends that she made her comments for the television camera at Mrs. Hutchins' request. The subject of the broadcast was the Hutchins' receipt of a subpoena to appear in district court for an immediate custody hearing due to alleged child abuse. Child abuse falls within the province of the "services" section, and Mrs. Fracaro maintains that her comments were not derived from information in the official records of the Department. Whether those comments were a breach of the confidentiality rule, and if they were, whether they should have occasioned Mrs. Fracaro's dismissal, are matters for resolution by the jury.[4]"

Children's Services
Economic Services

Federal case

Cross references: