One of the largest retailers in the Chicago area and the Midwest has become the latest target of a growing wave of class action lawsuits accusing employers of violating an Illinois state law regulating the collection of fingerprints and other “biometric” identifiers.
On Oct. 12, Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer was hit with a class action from lawyers with the Chicago firm of Stephan Zouras LLP, alleging the retailer forced employees to scan their fingerprints into a company database to track their hours worked, without securing written permission from the employees to do so and without explaining how the fingerprints would be stored and ultimately disposed of.
The lawsuit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of named plaintiff De Antoine Warren.
According to the lawsuit, Warren worked for Meijer at locations in Rockford and northwest suburban Niles and Rolling Meadows from June 2014 to August 2015. As an employee, he, like all others, was required to allow the company to scan his fingerprint into the database, and then was required to scan his fingerprint each time he punched in or out of a work shift.
While acknowledging the efficiency of using such biometric identifiers to track employee work hours, the lawsuit alleges Meijer’s practices violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. That law, which was enacted in 2008, came in response to the 2007 bankruptcy of Pay By Touch, a company which offered retailers and consumers the opportunity to make purchases using via fingerprint scan. The failure of the company, however, purportedly prompted concern among state lawmakers of the potential fallout, should such databases of fingerprints and other biometric identifiers be either sold or otherwise shared and distributed when Pay By Touch or other companies handling biometric information either fail or simply wish to no longer maintain or keep private those databases.
Among other requirements, the law ordered businesses maintaining such databases to enact policies to receive authorization from customers or employees before scanning fingerprints, retinas or other biometric identifiers, and to share with those whose biometrics are being scanned, information on how those identifiers would be stored and disposed of.
In this case, Warren’s lawyers said Meijer’s alleged policy “exposes Meijer’s employees to serious and irreversible privacy risks.”
“… Employees have no means by which to prevent identity theft, unauthorized tracking or other unlawful or improper use of this highly personal and private information,” the lawsuit alleged.
The complaint asks the court to expand the action to include every Meijer employee in Illinois who has ever had their fingerprint scanned and entered into the company database since Illinois enacted the BIPA in 2008.
According to Meijer’s website, the company, which is credited with pioneering the “supercenter” retail concept, operates 24 stores in Illinois. Each of those stores can employ as many as 300 people at any point in time, according company press releases announcing new store openings.
The lawsuit asks the court to order Meijer to pay the plaintiffs’ attorney fees, plus $1,000-$5,000 per violation, as allowed under the Illinois BIPA law, pushing damages potentially into the tens of millions of dollars.
The lawsuit against Meijer, however, is just the latest such action brought by the Stephan Zouras firm under the Illinois BIPA.
Two days earlier, Oct. 10, for instance, the firm brought suit against Marriott hotels, leveling similar accusations against that company, and demanding similar damages. In all, the firm is responsible for at least six such BIPA lawsuits.
Other firms have also brought still other class actions under the Illinois BIPA law, pushing to more than two dozen the total number of such actions pending against employers in Illinois courts.