News Story

U-M Says ‘No’ To Open Records Law Payroll Request, Michigan Court Of Claims Says ‘Yes’

Records would indicate if university’s state of emergency pay freeze was real

Many Michigan local governments and state institutions are using contract provisions that let them pay certain employees more than twice their base salary through overtime, bonuses or payouts of unused comp time or sick leave.

The University of Michigan claimed in 2020 it was freezing the base salaries of all its employees.

But when a Michigan Freedom of Information Act request was submitted for documents showing the gross pay of its employees, U-M officials refused, claiming the law only requires them to turn over base salary records. The requested documents would indicate whether some employees received bonuses or extra pay beyond base salary increases that had been frozen.

In response, the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation sued, demanding the university provide complete compensation records from its Office of Institutional Equity.

This week, the Michigan Court of Claims turned back the university’s claim.

Mackinac Center attorney Steve Delie commended the ruling. “Michiganders deserve transparency and responsiveness from our government and the public institutions subsidized with our hard-earned tax dollars,” he said. “We are pleased that the court upheld the cause of open government in this case and defended the public’s interests.”

A state law says that public entities, including universities, “shall upon request make available to the public the salary records of an employee or other official of the institution of higher education, school district, intermediate school district, or community college.”

U-M has argued that a definition of salary as defined in the dictionary, “fixed compensation paid regularly for services,” does not include bonuses and overtime. The court disagreed, noting that state law refers to “salary records,” which entails salary and other forms of compensation, including bonuses and overtime. It held that the Legislature’s intent was for all forms of compensation to be covered by the law.

The university has 21 days to appeal the ruling, according to Delie. He said, “The University of Michigan — indeed, all public institutions — needs to respect that government employee compensation information is a matter of public record.”

University of Michigan spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said U-M was still considering its next steps.

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.