Northwestern Hospital says law doesn't support 'nonsensical' privacy suit over fingerprint scans to dispense meds

By Dan Churney | May 22, 2019

Northwestern Memorial Hospital   Ken Lund from Reno, Nevada, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

A group of Northwestern Memorial Hospital have sued the hospital for requiring workers to scan fingerprints when entering a secured area in which medication was stored. 

Northwestern Hospital and the vendors who supplied the technology for the entrance security system are asking a federal judge to dismiss the workers' lawsuit, because state biometric privacy law does not cover the healthcare field.

In June 2018, Yana Mazya and Tiki Taylor filed suit against Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, Northwestern Memorial Healthcare and Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as against vendors Omnicell Inc. and Becton Dickinson. The putative class action was first lodged in Cook County Circuit Court, before it was moved May 10 to U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Mazya was a registered nurse at Northwestern in Lake Forest and Taylor was a patient care technician at Northwestern in Chicago. They said Northwestern scanned their fingerprints for use in an employee biometric system, components of which were made by Omnicell and Becton Dickinson, which allowed authorized employees to enter a secured area in which medication was stored.

Omnicell and Becton Dickinson make automated medication dispensing systems. Omnicell is based in Mountain View, Calif. and Becton Dickinson is in Franklin Lakes, N.J.

Plaintiffs alleged Northwestern violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act by not telling employees their fingerprints were shared with Omnicell and Becton Dickinson. Further, the two companies allegedly did not tell plaintiffs why and for how long they collected the prints, nor did the hospital obtain written releases from employees before collecting the prints.

Defendants have denied wrongdoing and filed motions May 17 to have the suit dismissed on several grounds, with Omnicell accusing plaintiffs of leveling "vague," "sparse, and often contradictory allegations," and "hoping that some proverbial strand of spaghetti will stick to the wall."

Becton Dickinson argued plaintiffs never "plausibly pleaded" the company ever had or did anything with the biometric data, saying the "result is, at times, nonsensical."

Northwestern contended, "Any assertion that fingerprints of healthcare workers implicate privacy interests is belied by the fact that Illinois law requires nurses to provide their fingerprints in order to obtain a nursing license."

All defendants stressed biometric data collected for "healthcare treatment, payment, and operations" does not fall under the Biometric Information Privacy Act, in accordance with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Defendants also argued plaintiffs were union members and their claim "should have been raised, if at all, through the contractual grievance and arbitration process," which plaintiffs did not do.

Further, Northwestern and Becton said plaintiffs' case is undermined, because the suit does not make any factual allegations Northwestern and Becton's conduct was "intentional or reckless."

Mazya and Taylor are represented by the Chicago firm of Stephan Zouras LLP.

Omnicell is defended by Cooley LLP, of San Francisco and Neal & McDevitt, of Northfield.

Northwestern is defended by the Chicago and Orlando, Fla., offices of the Cleveland-based firm of BakerHostetler.

Becton Dickinson is defended by Shook, Hardy & Bacon, of Chicago.

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Organizations in this Story

BakerHostetler Circuit Court of Cook County Cooley LLP Northwestern Memorial Hospital Shook Hardy & Bacon LLP Stephan Zouras LLP U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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