(Reuters) — A U.S. judge on Friday ordered a new trial on damages against BNSF Railway in a privacy class action, in a ruling that wiped out a $228 million award to truck drivers who accused the freight railroad giant of illegally collecting their fingerprints.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly in Illinois upheld a jury’s finding of liability that BNSF had violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, which places restrictions on the collection and use of personal information such as retina scans and fingerprints.
But Judge Kennelly said damages under the biometrics law were discretionary, and therefore “BNSF is entitled to allow a jury to determine the appropriate amount of damages.”;
The trial was the first held under Illinois’ biometric privacy law, which is among the strictest nationwide in protecting sensitive personal information.
Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway owns BNSF, which operates one of the nation’s largest freight rail networks.
A spokesperson for BNSF and an attorney for the company did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to similar messages.
A truck driver sued BNSF in 2019, alleging the Fort Worth, Texas-based company illegally required drivers to scan fingerprints at facilities in the state.
The jury in Chicago last year found that BNSF “recklessly or intentionally” violated Illinois biometric privacy laws 45,600 times. The law allows for $5,000 per violation.
Attorneys for BNSF said in a post-trial brief that the Illinois biometrics law contains the word “may” and that “there is the option not to award damages or to award damages in any amount less than the statutory maximum.”
The state law poses numerous compliance hurdles for businesses, and many have faced litigation. In 2020, Facebook said it would pay $650 million to settle class-action allegations that it violated Illinois law in a feature that could recognize people in photographs shared to the site.
The case is Rogers v. BNSF Railway Co .US District Court, Northern District of Illinois.