HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decided to review a lower-court ruling that would make public the salaries of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and other high-ranking university officials.
The high court on Tuesday agreed to take up the appeal by Penn State, Paterno and three administrators, who are challenging a decision by the State Employees’ Retirement System to release pension-related information.
The one-page order said Supreme Court Justice Cynthia A. Baldwin, who chairs the Penn State Board of Trustees, did not participate in considering or deciding the matter.
A Commonwealth Court panel ruled 3-2 in August 2005 that the salaries were public under the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law, but Penn State appealed, arguing disclosure would violate individuals’ privacy rights.
Jan Murphy, a reporter with the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, first sought salary information in December 2002 for Paterno, since-retired budget officer Richard Althouse, executive vice president and provost Rodney A. Erickson, and senior vice president and treasurer Gary C. Schultz.
The retirement system agreed to give Murphy the information she sought, but her request has been on hold while the university appeals the case.
The Patriot-News has argued that Penn State employees should not be given preferential treatment by having details withheld regarding the state-sponsored pension plan.
“Because Penn State employees can elect to be part of the system, which in this case these gentlemen did, then they should be treated no differently than any other state employee,” newspaper lawyer Craig J. Staudenmaier said Wednesday.
Penn State has said releasing salaries would be unfair to people hired with the understanding their salaries would be private. The school also has voiced concerns about how disclosure might harm morale or help rival institutions hire away faculty.
Penn State spokesman Tysen Kendig had no immediate comment Wednesday.
Staudenmaier speculated that argument before the court could take place early next year, with a decision coming perhaps a year or 18 months after that.
Pennsylvania’s four “state-related” universities — Penn State, Temple, Pittsburgh and Lincoln — are exempt from the government’s Right-to-Know Law. But the law does apply to the retirement system.
New Penn State hires can choose between the state pension system or the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund.