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Illinois Supreme Court rules Workers’ Compensation Act does not bar BIPA privacy claims

Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Courts State Issues Illinois BIPA Appellate

Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

On February 3, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act (Compensation Act) does not bar claims for statutory damages under the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). According to the opinion, the plaintiff sued the defendant and several other long-term care facilities in 2017 for violations of BIPA, alleging their timekeeping systems scanned her fingerprints without first notifying her and seeking her consent. The defendant countered that the Compensation Act preempted the plaintiff’s claims, but in 2020 the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, held that it failed to see how the plaintiff’s claim for liquidated damages under BIPA “fits within the purview of the Compensation Act, which is a remedial statute designed to provide financial protection for workers that have sustained an actual injury.” As such, the appellate panel concluded that the Compensation Act’s exclusivity provisions “do not bar a claim for statutory, liquidated damages, where an employer is alleged to have violated an employee’s statutory privacy rights under the Privacy Act, as such a claim is simply not compensable under the Compensation Act.”

In affirming the appellate panel’s decision, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed that the “personal and societal injuries caused by violating [BIPA’s] prophylactic requirements are different in nature and scope from the physical and psychological work injuries that are compensable under the Compensation Act. [BIPA] involves prophylactic measures to prevent compromise of an individual’s biometrics.” Additionally, the Illinois Supreme Court held that the plain language of BIPA supports a conclusion that the state legislature did not intend for it to be preempted by the Compensation Act’s exclusivity provisions. Noting that it is aware of the consequences the legislature intended as a result of BIPA violations, the Illinois Supreme Court wrote that the “General Assembly has tried to head off such problems before they occur by imposing safeguards to ensure that the individuals’ privacy rights in their biometric identifiers and biometric information are properly protected before they can be compromised and by subjecting private entities who fail to follow the statute’s requirements to substantial potential liability . . . whether or not actual damages, beyond violation of the law’s provisions, can be shown.” Moreover, if a “different balance should be struck under [BIPA] given the category of injury,” that is “a question more appropriately addressed to the legislature.”

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