City of Bozeman’s Copy-Paste Legal Logic

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Matt already mentioned Bozeman’s insane policy requiring potential job applicants to hand over their login names (and passwords!) for all web sites they belong to, but I thought I would take a look at the requirement and the city’s response.

Reading the form is bizarre.

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What struck me, beyond the incredibly broad nature of the request, was its awkward working. Why does the first paragraph end with the ungrammatical and incorrect phrase “employment with Company.”?

It looks like the legal language vetted by the City Attorney is nothing more than a legal document template that someone forgot to edit completely. That’s certainly a reassuring detail about the legal thoughtfulness that went into approving this document.

What legal scholar approved the city asking for clearly private information? Constitutional scholar and City Attorney Greg Sullivan, who offered this defense:

"So, we have positions ranging from fire and police, which require people of high integrity for those positions, all the way down to the lifeguards and the folks that work in city hall here. So we do those types of investigations to make sure the people that we hire have the highest moral character and are a good fit for the City," Sullivan said.

It seems to me that neither a government agency nor a private employer have any business investigating an applicant’s “moral character” or determining anyone’s suitability for employment based on their choice of a MySpace background or religious views. While city officials are “looking into the legality” of the requirement, it’ s evident that the condition for employment will not stand legal scrutiny for a moment.

Until then, because of my concerns about his moral character, I’d like to see Mr. Sullivan list every web site he has a membership to, along with his username.

I’ll start with one he should look into.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it’s a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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  • Asking for such information is blatantly wrong, therefore it’s clear Greg Sullivan is incapable of distinguishing right from wrong and thus has no moral character.

  • Allowing inspection of Facebook opens the loophole wide for discrimination based on religion (as Po pointed out), age (usually listed on Facebook pages), marital status (again, generally listed), disabled status (especially if the applicant is disabled in a way that is obvious from pictures), etc.

    Obviously in most cases this would not be the goal, hopefully, but there is a reason employers can't ask for that information: even open-minded employers may be subconsciously influenced by seeing that a totally qualified candidate is a 75 year old single black Muslim in a wheelchair. Better to let employers find out that information (and age and religion is information they never need to know) after they have already determined that the candidates application meets all the pre-requisites for the job in question.

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