News Story

Lawsuit: U-M Defies Open Records Law To Hide Pay Rates

University also defies series of Michigan court precedents favoring openness

The union pay scale for a teacher in the Troy School District tops out at $91,750.

But according to district records, the highest paid teacher had a gross pay of $116,115. That’s $24,365 more than the highest salary offered in the collective bargaining agreement between the district and the local teachers union.

The difference exists because there are many ways in Michigan’s public sector to make far more money than the base pay specified in union contracts.

In the city of Westland, one police officer took home $221,331 in 2020. He was allowed to cash in $129,661 in unused sick and compensation time he had banked in previous years.

While these examples exceed the norm, the practices they illustrate are commonplace across the state, with municipal employees often collecting extra money beyond their base salary.

In April 2020, early in the coronavirus pandemic, the University of Michigan announced it would freeze its employees’ base salaries. But the word “freeze” did not mean employees couldn’t receive pay increases.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to discover gross pay collected by U-M employees in a particular department.

The university refused to comply, claiming that disclosing salary information outside of base pay would be an invasion of an employee’s personal privacy, even though salaries generally come from taxpayer dollars.

U-M stated: “Your appeal has been carefully considered and is denied for the reasons stated in Ms. Sellinger’s response of Tuesday, February 2, 2021, specifically, the records are exempt from disclosure pursuant to MCL 14.243(1)(a) (sic), which exempts from disclosure ‘[i]nformation of a personal nature if public disclosure of the information would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of an individual’s privacy.’”

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy sued U-M, and the case is pending. It argues that the university's claims go against the law and cites a series of Michigan case law precedents supporting this. The lawsuit is one of seven the limited-government think tank filed as government bodies narrow the flow of information available to the public through open records laws.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.