Quon v. Arch Wireless Operating Co., 529 F.3d 892 (9th Cir. 2008)

Arch Wireless contracted to provide wireless text-messaging services for the City of Ontario, including its police department. Pursuant to the city’s general Computer Usage, Internet and E-mail Policy, the use of the city’s computers and other electronic equipment, networks, etc., was limited to city-related business, access was not confidential and “users should have no expectation of privacy or confidentiality when using these resources.” Sergeant Jeff Quon, a member of the city’s SWAT team, signed an employee acknowledgement of the Policy; he also attended a meeting in which he and others were informed that text messages were considered to be the same as e-mail and could be audited by the department. Quon was later told that the content of his text messages would not be audited so long as he paid the department for any charges associated with texting more than 25,000 characters in a billing cycle. When a lieutenant in the department “grew weary” of being a bill collector for officers who exceeded the 25,000 character limit, the department contacted Arch Wireless and requested transcripts of the text messages. After the department received the transcripts from Arch, an investigation was conducted by internal affairs to determine “if someone was wasting city time not doing work when they should be.” The investigation revealed that many of Quon’s messages were personal in nature and were sexually explicit. Quon (and those with whom he had texted) sued Arch for violation of the Stored Communications Act (“SCA”) and the Ontario Police Department and its chief for violating the Fourth Amendment and the privacy protection provision of the California Constitution. The Ninth Circuit held that Arch violated the SCA by turning over the text transcripts to the city, which was only a “subscriber” and not “an addressee or intended recipient of such communication.” The Court further determined that Quon and those with whom he texted had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the text messages given the informal policy and “operational reality” of the department. Although the chief of police was shielded from liability by qualified immunity, the city and department were not. See also Nelson v. NASA, 530 F.3d 865 (9th Cir. 2008) (“low-risk” NASA contract employees were entitled to injunction precluding in-depth background investigations).

Email this postTweet this postLike this postShare this post on LinkedIn
Photo of Tony Oncidi Tony Oncidi

Anthony J. Oncidi is the co-chair of the Labor & Employment Law Department and heads the West Coast Labor & Employment group in the firm’s Los Angeles office.

Tony represents employers and management in all aspects of labor relations and employment law, including…

Anthony J. Oncidi is the co-chair of the Labor & Employment Law Department and heads the West Coast Labor & Employment group in the firm’s Los Angeles office.

Tony represents employers and management in all aspects of labor relations and employment law, including litigation and preventive counseling, wage and hour matters, including class actions, wrongful termination, employee discipline, Title VII and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, executive employment contract disputes, sexual harassment training and investigations, workplace violence, drug testing and privacy issues, Sarbanes-Oxley claims and employee raiding and trade secret protection. A substantial portion of Tony’s practice involves the defense of employers in large class actions, employment discrimination, harassment and wrongful termination litigation in state and federal court as well as arbitration proceedings, including FINRA matters.

Tony is recognized as a leading lawyer by such highly respected publications and organizations as the Los Angeles Daily JournalThe Hollywood Reporter, and Chambers USA, which gives him the highest possible rating (“Band 1”) for Labor & Employment.  According to Chambers USA, clients say Tony is “brilliant at what he does… He is even keeled, has a high emotional IQ, is a great legal writer and orator, and never gives up.” Other clients report:  “Tony has an outstanding reputation” and he is “smart, cost effective and appropriately aggressive.” Tony is hailed as “outstanding,” particularly for his “ability to merge top-shelf lawyerly advice with pragmatic business acumen.” He is highly respected in the industry, with other commentators lauding him as a “phenomenal strategist” and “one of the top employment litigators in the country.”

“Tony is the author of the treatise titled Employment Discrimination Depositions (Juris Pub’g 2020; www.jurispub.com), co-author of Proskauer on Privacy (PLI 2020), and, since 1990, has been a regular columnist for the official publication of the Labor and Employment Law Section of the State Bar of California and the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

Tony has been a featured guest on Fox 11 News and CBS News in Los Angeles. He has been interviewed and quoted by leading national media outlets such as The National Law JournalBloomberg News, The New York Times, and Newsweek and Time magazines. Tony is a frequent speaker on employment law topics for large and small groups of employers and their counsel, including the Society for Human Resource Management (“SHRM”), PIHRA, the National CLE Conference, National Business Institute, the Employment Round Table of Southern California (Board Member), the Council on Education in Management, the Institute for Corporate Counsel, the State Bar of California, the California Continuing Education of the Bar Program and the Los Angeles and Beverly Hills Bar Associations. He has testified as an expert witness regarding wage and hour issues as well as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and has served as a faculty member of the National Employment Law Institute. He has served as an arbitrator in an employment discrimination matter.

Tony is an appointed Hearing Examiner for the Los Angeles Police Commission Board of Rights and has served as an Adjunct Professor of Law and a guest lecturer at USC Law School and a guest lecturer at UCLA Law School.