Friday, November 02, 2012

FOIA and business

Interesting discussion on the BUSLIB listserv this week. Someone was working with students of an instructor who has assigned the "impossible assignment" of finding the "demographics for a given company: how many female employees, how many male, how many disabled, how many minorities/persons of color, and what positions these hold and salaries they make. The instructor insists that this is a doable assignment."

Many companies give similar info annually to the US Government, such as to the Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), but generally it is released only in aggregate form. Public companies are not subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, even though they are "subject to more reporting requirements than private companies by virtue of the fact that their shares are publicly traded."

However, the SEC does accept FOIA requests related to public companies for several reasons. Per the SEC: "A FOIA request is required to obtain non-public records, such
as records compiled in investigations, consumer complaints, and staff comment letters. We will release non-public records, unless the record is protected by one of nine FOIA exemptions. If we can reasonably segregate or delete exempt information from a requested record, we will release to you the rest of the record. In addition to FOIA exemptions, there are three special protection provisions, referred to as record "exclusions." The FOIA exclusions are reserved for certain specified circumstances." Of course, "FOIA requests can take weeks, months or longer to complete," and the request mmust be deemed "reasonable."

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