Cook County Record

Monday, October 21, 2019

New worker fingerprint class actions now target Southwest, American airlines, Hilton, Wyndham hotels

By Jonathan Bilyk | Dec 6, 2017

Some of the biggest names in travel and lodging have been added to the large and growing list of employers in Chicago and elsewhere in Illinois targeted by class action lawsuits accusing them of not securing their workers’ written authorization before scanning their fingerprints into their company databases to more accurately log and track their employees’ work hours.

Late last month, attorneys for four law firms filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court against Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, Hilton Hotels & Resorts and Wyndham Worldwide on behalf of former employees who alleged the companies violated the rights of its workers under the Illinois Biometric Privacy Information Act.

The lawsuits ask the courts to expand the actions to include potentially everyone who worked for any of those companies in Illinois since 2014, a class that could include thousands of employees.

The lawsuits are similar to a growing number of similar lawsuits filed in recent months against dozens of other employers in and around Chicago, centering on the employers’ use of time clocks that require employees to scan their fingerprints each time they punch in and out of a work shift. Employers have increasingly used such systems, rather than time cards, swipe cards or employee identification numbers input using keypads, to more efficiently and accurately log employee work hours, while decreasing incidences of fraud. Under previous systems, employers have said, someone other than an employee could punch the clock on behalf of another to make it appear an absent employee was working.

Beginning in 2008, however, the state of Illinois increased regulations on businesses use of fingerprints and other so-called biometric identifiers, such as retinal scans and other defining physical characteristics, for both employees and customers, under the state’s BIPA law.

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 information on how those identifiers would be stored and disposed of.

Attorneys with the firm of Stephan Zouras LLP, of Chicago, filed two of the class action lawsuits, representing named plaintiff Janelle Mims in the suit filed against Hilton on Nov. 30, and named plaintiff Monica Ogen against Wyndham on Nov 28.

According to those suits, Mims worked as a full-time housekeeper at Hilton’s luxury Conrad Chicago Hotel in the city’s River North neighborhood from April to November 2017, while Ogen worked as a food server and shuttle driver at Wyndham’s Dolce Q Center conference center and resort property in west suburban St. Charles from June 2015 to October 2017.

The lawsuit against Southwest Airlines, filed Nov. 27, attorneys with the firm of Hart McLaughlin & Eldridge, of Chicago, filed on behalf of named plaintiffs Jennifer Miller, Scott Poole and Kevin England. The complaint says only all of those plaintiffs worked for Southwest at Chicago’s Midway International Airport, and does not specify their particular jobs or dates of employment.

And in the lawsuit against American Airlines, filed Nov. 17, attorneys with McGuire Law P.C., of Chicago, are representing named plaintiff Edward Kowalski, who worked as a baggage handler for American at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. The lawsuit does not specify when he was employed.

The lawsuits all ask the court to expand their actions to include all workers employed by those businesses in Illinois within the last three years, which is the time limit imposed by the BIPA law.

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.

Since earlier this year, dozens of BIPA lawsuits against employers have piled up in the state, and particularly in Cook County.

Other such class actions have been brought against many other large employers operating within Illinois, including Aramark, United Airlines, Hyatt Hotels, Life Time Fitness, Speedway, Abra Auto Body, Kellermeyer Bergenson Services, commercial baker Aryzta, and the operators of dozens of senior living and health care centers throughout Illinois.

And much of the activity has come from a handful of law firms, including the Stephan Zouras firm, which, among others, has also brought such BIPA employee lawsuits against Abra, Speedway, superstore retailer Meijer, and McGuire Law, which has also sued United, Crunch Fitness and Intercontinental Hotel Group, among others.

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Organizations in this Story

American Airlines Hart McLaughlin & Eldridge, LLC Hilton Hotels Corporation McGuire Law PC Southwest Airlines Co. HQ Stephan Zouras LLP Wyndham Hotel Group