Aramark, one of the country’s largest employers, providing food and other vendor services to Chicago’s Soldier Field and numerous schools, corporate headquarters, hospitals, prisons and other institutional facilities in Illinois, has become one of the latest targets among a growing number of lawsuits under an Illinois privacy law, accusing employers of not properly handling the process of scanning and managing their employees’ fingerprints to log employees’ work hours.
On Nov. 7, attorneys with the firm of Werman Salas P.C., of Chicago, filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court against Aramark on behalf of named plaintiff Joseph Cintron, seeking to also expand the lawsuit to include a class of at least 500 workers, if not more, who also have worked for Aramark in Illinois since 2014.
The lawsuit alleges Aramark, like many other employers, both large and small, in recent years required employees to scan their fingerprints into a company database so the company could track their hours worked for payroll purposes. Essentially, the employees would scan their fingerprints on company punch clock devices when they would begin a work shift, end a shift, punch out for meal breaks or otherwise go off the clock.
Employers have increasingly used such systems in recent years, rather than time cards, swipe cards or keypads into which employees would enter an identification number, to more efficiently and accurately log employee work hours, while decreasing incidences of fraud, such as someone other than the employee punching the clock to make it appear an absent employee was working.
Since 2008, however, when Illinois lawmakers enacted the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act, the state has increased regulations on businesses that collect and store so-called biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints, retinal scans and other identifying physical characteristics, for either customers or employees.
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 their lawsuit against Aramark, the Werman Salas firm alleges the company failed to secure authorization from employees before scanning and storing employees’ fingerprints, and did not explain in writing the company’s policies for storing and ultimately disposing of the scanned prints when employees leave the company, thus allegedly violating the Illinois BIPA law.
According to published reports, Philadelphia-based Aramark brought in more than $14 billion in revenue in 2016 and employs more than 217,000 workers worldwide.
According to the lawsuit, Cintron worked for Aramark as a grill cook at Soldier Field from 2013-2015 and then at BMO Harris Bank’s Chicago headquarters for about five months in 2016.
Also on Nov. 7, Cintron and the Werman Salas firm also filed a similar class action lawsuit under BIPA against Cintron’s next employer, the Sweetgreen restaurant chain, alleging that employer also improperly collected and stored Cintron’s fingerprints, as well as those of other employees at its four Chicago locations.
The lawsuits ask the court to order the defendants to pay “liquidated monetary damages … for each violation” of BIPA, plus attorney fees.
Under the BIPA law, plaintiffs are allowed to request damage awards of $1,000-$5,000 per violation, plus attorney fees. Thus, large employers sued under the BIPA law could face many millions of dollars in potential damages.
The Werman Salas lawsuits mark the firm’s third entry in recent days into the increasingly crowded field of BIPA litigation in courts in Illinois.
In downstate Tazewell County, on Oct. 30, the firm filed a similar lawsuit against the Bob Evans restaurant chain on behalf of named plaintiff Emily Kiefer, who has worked as a server at the chain’s Pekin restaurant since September 2015, according to the complaint.
Since earlier this year, dozens of BIPA lawsuits against employers have piled up in the state, and particularly in Cook County.
For instance, as the complaints were filed against Aramark and Sweetgreen, similar class actions were launched by other firms on behalf of other clients against other employers, including United Airlines, Hyatt Hotels, Life Time Fitness, Kerry Ingredients and Flavors, Kellermeyer Bergensons Services, and the Suparossa Restaurant Group, among others.
Those lawsuits would include potentially tens of thousands of Illinois workers, and come on the heels of dozens of others brought against nursing homes, retailers, restaurants, janitorial service firms and hoteliers, among others.
Law firms bringing other actions include Edelson P.C., McGuire Law P.C., Stephan Zouras LLP, The Khowaja Law Firm, the Law Office of James X. Bormes and Caffarelli & Associates, all of Chicago.