Quan v. Arch Wireless involved the use of employer-provided pagers in the Ontario Police Department in California. The official city policy stated that the department had the right to review messages officers sent using the pagers. The policy clearly stated that there was no privacy for any electronic messages at work, including email and text messages. Supervisors, however, told employees that if they paid overage charges themselves, the messages would not be audited. Quan, who is a member of the SWAT team, sent many sexually explicit text messages to his wife during work hours. He also neglected to pay the overage charges. The police department eventually read the text messages in connection with an audit for text message overage charges. The text messages ultimately lead to disciplinary action against Quan. Quan and other employees sued the department for violation of their constitutional right to privacy. At trial, the department relied upon its formal computer use policies and procedures, which Quan had signed a written acceptance, to justify its actions. Quan argued that his supervisor had implemented a different informal policy causing him to have a reasonable expectation that his text messages would not be reviewed. The Ninth Circuit held that this “operational reality” trumped the “formal written policies.” Thus, employer’s review of the employee’s text messages violated the employee’s privacy rights, and that of his wife.
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The Labor & Employment Group is dedicated to providing up-to-date, useful information to allow employers and human resources professionals to react to rapidly evolving case law, statutes, and regulations that control the California workplace. This blog’s objective is to serve as a forum to discuss labor and employment topics, issues and legal news.