US Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Employers in Search of Work-Issued Pager

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In a much-anticipated decision about workplace privacy, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of employers, at least public employers. In the decision, City of Ontario, California v. Quon, the Court said that a city audit of an employee’s messages on a city-owned pager was a reasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. The decision avoided the issue of whether the employee/plaintiff in the case, police Sergeant Jeff Quon, the employee in the case, had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his text messages, some of which turned out to be private and sexually explicit.

According to the Court, the city’s search — aimed at determining whether city employees in general needed a higher number of minutes on their pagers — was reasonable under any view of the Fourth Amendment right to protection from unreasonable searches.

The decision only impacts public employers and employees, as individuals in private employment do not have the same constitutional protections as public employees do (the Constitution only protects against government actions, such as unreasonable searches and seizures).

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