The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Friday in a split opinion that employers violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act every time they collected fingerprints from an employee and disclosed the biometric information without consent.
An employer attorney said the ruling could have a devastating impact on businesses unless the state legislature takes some action in response.
The State Supreme Court’s 4-3 ruling in Latrina Cothron v. White Castle System Inc. following its unanimous decision on February 2 i Tim’s vs. Black Horse Carriers. Inc., where it held that claims under BIPA are governed by a limitation period of five years, rather than one year.
BIPA, which has led to thousands of lawsuits against employers, primarily in Illinois but also elsewhere, requires companies that store biometric information to inform the subject in writing that the data is being collected or stored and its purpose and duration. is being collected. It also requires companies to obtain the subject̵7;s written consent.
Illinois remains the only state that allows a private right to speak in biometric cases. The 2008 law allows plaintiffs to be awarded $1,000 for each negligent violation, or $5,000 for each intentional or reckless violation.
Mrs. Cothron is the manager of a White Castle restaurant in Illinois, where she has been employed since 2004, according to the indictment.
Her complaint states that shortly after her employment began, White Castle introduced a system that required its employees to scan their fingerprints to access their payslips and computers. A third-party vendor then verified each scan and authorized the employees’ access, the ruling said.
Ms. Cothron said the company did not seek her consent until more than a decade after the law took effect.
Her complaint alleged that a new claim arose every time she scanned her fingerprints and White Castle sent her biometric data to a third party.
White Castle argued that claims arise only once, when the biometric data is initially collected or disclosed.
The district court sentenced Ms. Cothron’s advantage. On appeal, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago asked the Illinois Supreme Court to consider the case.
The majority opinion said White Castle estimates that if the plaintiffs are successful and allowed to file their claims on behalf of as many as 9,500 current and former White Castle employees, class damages could total more than $17 billion.
It added, however, that “this court has repeatedly held that, when the statutory language is clear, it must be given effect.”
The minority opinion held that the ruling “will lead to consequences that the Legislature could not have intended” and the majority’s interpretation “makes compliance with the law particularly onerous for employers.”
Plaintiff attorney Stephan Zouras, of Stephan Zouras LLP in Chicago, said in a statement that the opinion is “well reasoned.”
“We are extremely pleased that after three years of litigation in this important matter, Cothron and the class she represents will now have an opportunity to move forward with her case and prove to a jury that White Castle disregarded their biometric privacy rights under BIPA for more than a decade.”
Defense attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.
Employer attorney Daniel S. Marvin, a partner with Kennedys Law LLP in New York, who is not involved in the case, said the majority “pretty much recognizes that this decision could lead to absurd results.”
Mr. Marvin added that such a ruling “could effectively destroy a company.”
Daniel A. Cotter, an attorney at Howard & Howard Attorneys PLLC in Chicago who is not involved in the case, said: “My recommendation to anyone using biometric information would be to stop immediately.” He said he expects insurers to add endorsements to their policies to make it “very clear” that BIPA claims are excluded.