The Hooters restaurant chain has landed in court, among the latest employers in Chicago and elsewhere sued under an Illinois privacy law for allegedly improperly collecting and storing its employees fingerprints, even though employees use their fingerprints to clock in and out of work shifts and accurately track their hours on the job.
Earlier this month, attorneys with The Khowaja Law Firm LLC and the Law Office of James X. Bormes P.C., each of Chicago, filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of plaintiff Anadelia Hernandez.
The lawsuit alleges the restaurant group, like many other employers in recent years, forced employees to scan their fingerprints into a company database to log their work hours, but did so without first securing written authorization from employees to do so and without explaining how the fingerprints would be stored and ultimately disposed of.
According to the lawsuit, Hernandez has worked as a server at the Hooters restaurant on N. Wells Street in Chicago since 2014. Since at least October 2014, the lawsuit said, Hernandez and perhaps more than 100 other employees have been required to scan a fingerprint each time she punched in and out of a work shift.
The lawsuit alleges Hooters’ practices violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. That law, 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 a fingerprint scan. The company’s failure, however prompted state lawmakers to enact protections to attempt to prevent such databases of fingerprints and other biometric identifiers from being sold or otherwise distributed when such companies either fail or simply wish to no longer maintain 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.
The lawsuit against Hooters, as other similar lawsuits that have preceded it into the courts, warns the failure to abide by the Illinois BIPA law threatens to expose employees’ private biometric identifiers, amid other privacy risks.
The complaint asks the court to expand the action to include every Hooters employee, not only at the Chicago location, but throughout Illinois since October 2014.
According to Hooters’ website, the company operates more than a dozen restaurants in northeastern Illinois, including its Wells Street location and restaurants at O’Hare International Airport, Melrose Park, Downers Grove, Gurnee, Aurora, Oak Lawn, Schaumburg, Countryside and Lansing.
The chain also operates restaurants in downstate Peoria, Springfield, Champaign and Bloomington.
The lawsuit asks the court to order Hooters to pay the plaintiffs’ attorney fees, plus $1,000-$5,000 per violation, as allowed under the Illinois BIPA law.
The lawsuit, however, is but one among dozens of such class actions filed under the Illinois BIPA law, targeting the employers of potentially thousands of workers for potentially millions of dollars in damages and attorney fees.
In October alone, for instance, such lawsuits leveling similar allegations have also been filed in Cook County court against three janitorial and facility maintenance service firms, identified in the lawsuits as ABM Industries, The Millard Group and Healthcare Services Group Inc.; nursing home Paramount of Oak Park Rehabilitation and Nursing Center; and hospitality company and hotelier, Pineapple Hospitality Co., which operates the Alise Hotel in Chicago.
Law firms bringing those lawsuits include the Khowaja firm; McGuire Law P.C.; and Edelson P.C., all of Chicago.