The owners of the Mariano’s supermarket chain have carted to federal court a class action lawsuit brought by one of its workers, who claimed the Chicago area grocer has been improperly requiring its employees to use their fingerprints to check in and out for work, without getting the employees’ permission to store their biometric data.
On May 11, Roundy’s Supermarkets, a subsidiary of national supermarket giant Kroger, and parent company of the Mariano’s brand, removed to federal court in Chicago a lawsuit first filed in Cook County Circuit Court.
That action had initially been brought in March by plaintiff Norman Baron, who had worked at the Mariano’s store in Hoffman Estates as a food server from 2013-2016, when he quit his job. He is represented in the action by attorneys Ilan Chorowsky and Mark Bulgarelli, of Progressive Law Group LLC, of Evanston.
According to the lawsuit, Mariano’s has for years violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, a law enacted in 2008 to ostensibly protect the security of Illinoisans’ biometric data, such as fingerprints and other biometric identifiers which can typically only be altered by surgery.
The lawsuit centers on Mariano’s use of employee fingerprints to operate the company’s punch clocks. While giving employees a swipe card to “punch in” when on the job, and “punch out” when not on the clock, the company requires them to also scan their fingerprints to track their hours worked for Mariano’s.
To facilitate this system, Mariano’s also stores those employee fingerprint scans.
However, the lawsuit alleges Mariano’s never first collected the expressed written consent of employees to collect, store or use their fingerprints, as is required under the Illinois BIPA law.
Further, the lawsuit alleges Mariano’s never has disclosed how long it may store the fingerprint scans or other employee biometric markers, nor how it plans to destroy that digital information.
“Roundy's' … use of biometrics benefits only Roundy's,” the complaint said. “There is no corresponding benefit to employees: Roundy's has required, or coerced, employees to comply in order to receive a paycheck, after they have committed to the job and become dependent on a Roundy's paycheck.”
Baron has asked the court to expand the case to include a class of additional plaintiffs, including “all Roundy’s employees in the State of Illinois whom Roundy’s fingerprinted or finger-scanned when clocking in or out of work.”
The complaint does not estimate how many employees this class definition may include.
The lawsuit asks the court to award “all damages available” under the law, plus attorney fees. In its motion for removal, Roundy’s estimates total potential damages could exceed $5 million.
Roundy’s is represented in the action by attorneys with the firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson, of Chicago.