The owners of the Intercontinental Hotel Group, which includes the Intercontinental, Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and Kimpton Hotels brands, among others, have become the latest major Illinois employer to come under the sights of plaintiff employees who claim the business has wrongly collected and used employees’ fingerprints and other “biometric” data, in violation of a state privacy law.
On June 27, plaintiff Eric Zepeda filed a putative class action lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against IHG and its subsidiary, the Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group, claiming the company, which employs hundreds of workers at numerous hotels and resort properties in Chicago and elsewhere in Illinois, should be made to pay for allegedly violating the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA.)
IHG is based in the United Kingdom, but operates its Americas regional office in Atlanta, Ga. Kimpton is based in California, and operates four boutique hotels in Chicago, according to the Kimpton website.
According to the lawsuit, Zepeda is an Illinois resident who “has worked at one of (IHG’s) hotels in the Chicago area.”
Zepeda is represented in the action by attorneys Evan M. Meyers, David L. Gerbie and William P. Kingston, of the McGuire Law P.C., of Chicago.
In his lawsuit, Zepeda and his counsel assert IHG and Kimpton have violated for the last three years the Illinois BIPA law, which governs how people and organizations can obtain and use certain biometric identifiers, including fingerprints, facial scans and more.
In this case, Zepeda alleges IHG and Kimpton ran afoul of the law in 2014 when the company shifted from a worker time keeping system which had involved worker identification cards and punch codes to a system which required employees to scan their fingerprints to punch in at the beginning of their shifts, and out for required breaks and at the end of their shifts.
“Defendants’ new system ensures that workers can only verify their attendance and timeliness through scanning their fingerprints,” the lawsuit said.
According to the lawsuit, Zepeda alleges the company never properly obtained employees’ consent to obtain and use their fingerprints, as required by BIPA, nor did they disclose to employees how their fingerprints would be stored or used, whether and how the information would be shared with third party vendors and others, or how the company planned to ultimately dispose of the biometric information.
“To this day, Plaintiff (Zepeda) is unaware of the status of his biometric data and biometric information that was obtained by Defendants,” the lawsuit said. “Defendants have not informed Plaintiff whether they still retain his information, and if they do, for how long they intend to retain it without his consent.”
The lawsuit asks the court to expand the lawsuit to include potentially “hundreds, if not thousands” of other plaintiff class members, including any IHG and Kimpton employees “whose biometrics were captured, obtained, stored or used by (IHG and Kimpton) within the state of Illinois any time within the applicable limitations period.”
The lawsuit requests damages of $1,000 to $5,000 per violation, plus attorney fees and interest, potentially making a judgment worth millions of dollars.
To this point, the BIPA law has largely been used by plaintiffs and their lawyers to bring class actions against companies misusing consumer information. For instance, plaintiffs have sued social media giant Facebook and photosharing sites, like Shutterfly, for using face scans to identify people in photos posted online without the consent of those tagged in the photos. Others sued under BIPA have included LA Tan, which was accused of improperly obtaining and using customers’ fingerprints.
However, the lawsuit against IHG is the latest such employment-related action introduced in Cook County court by plaintiffs suing under BIPA for allegedly improper collection and use of employee fingerprints.
Earlier this year, employees of the Mariano’s supermarket chain sued Mariano’s corporate parents, Roundy’s Supermarkets and Kroger, alleging similar BIPA violations. Roundy’s, through their counsel with the firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson, moved in May to take that case to federal court. In its motion for removal, Roundy’s estimated the class action could be worth more than $5 million.
Plaintiffs in the Mariano’s case were represented by attorneys Ilan Chorowsky and Mark Bulgarelli, of Progressive Law Group LLC, of Evanston.