Release of Brett Bigham's social security number to media outlets costs thousands in fines

The state has issued $9,000 in fines to Multnomah Education Service District after it released 2014 Oregon Teacher of the Year Brett Bigham’s social security number to nine media outlets. TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Oregon 2014 Teacher of the Year Brett Bigham

The release was part of a sharing of public records following a June 26 separation agreement, signed by the board. The district and its celebrated special education teacher parted ways after a heated dispute involving accusations of sexual orientation discrimination, retaliation, excessive absences, inaccurate public statements and more.

The Portland Tribune received a paper copy of the separation agreement immediately following the June 26 meeting in which it was signed. An MESD official then emailed copies to eight other media outlets, some of whom uploaded the PDFs to their news reports. The settlement agreement contained unredacted copies of Bigham’s W-4 and W-9 tax forms, which listed his social security number.

MESD and Bigham’s lawyer contacted media outlets to destroy or remove the information after the release, which they did.

Laura Conroy, a spokeswoman for the district, said after learning of the incident, the district contacted the nine media outlets involved and sent a notification letter, an apology and an offer of credit monitoring services.

But, according to Bigham, that didn't happen when it was supposed to. After receiving a strange notice from a credit card company, Bigham said he discovered in November that the district hadn’t followed through on the promise of purchasing credit monitoring services for him.

“From July to November we were under the impression that MESD had followed through on their obligation, but they had not,” Bigham says. “I received no notification from them that they had not followed through.”

Conroy says the district “revamped its public records release policy by creating a detailed document review process to be used when responses to public records requests are prepared.”

Citing a commitment to confidentiality, Conroy would not confirm the identity of the person involved in the data breach nor discuss when the district’s offered credit monitoring services actually began. The state decision refers to Bigham by his initials.

Bigham said the credit troubles resulting from the data breach have also extended to his mom, with whom he shared an account.

After an investigation, the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services issued MESD a $1,000 fine for each of the nine instances of violating the ID Theft Act, by aiding criminals. Half of the fee was assessed immediately, but the other $4,500 may be waived if the district doesn’t have another violation in the next five years.

Conroy said the district has “a very high degree of confidence” that they will be able to prevent future incidents like this.

Shasta Kearns Moore
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