The Supreme Court of Illinois broadly interpreted the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) in two recent decisions, Cothron v. White Castle System, Inc., and Tims v. Black Horse Carriers, Inc. These decisions will affect class action lawsuits, particularly in the employment sector. Now class members might recover significant damages.
In Illinois, BIPA defines biometric information as “any information, regardless of how it is captured, converted, stored, or shared, based on an individual’s biometric identifier used to identify an individual.” 740 Ill. Comp. Stat. 14/10 (2022). In other words, biometric information is identifying information unique to a specific individual. Examples include retina or iris scans, fingerprints, voiceprints, and face or hand scans. Id.
In its recent decision in Cothron, the Supreme Court of Illinois specifically focused on two sections of BIPA—section 15(b) and section 15(d). Cothron v. White Castle Sys., Inc., 2023 IL 128004, ¶ 1 (Ill. 2023). Section 15(b) places restrictions on when a private entity can “collect, capture, purchase, receive through trade, or otherwise obtain a person’s or a customer’s biometric identifier or biometric information.” 740 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 14/15(b) (2022). Section 15(d) governs restrictions on when a private entity already in possession of biometric information “may disclose, redisclose, or otherwise disseminate a person’s or a customer’s biometric identifier or biometric information.” Id. § 14/15(d). Thus, section 15(b) relates to when a private entity can take biometric information, whereas section 15(d) pertains to when a private entity can transmit biometric information.
In Cothron, an employee brought a putative class action against the employer, on behalf of all other employees, alleging that the employer’s fingerprint scanning and verification system violated BIPA. Cothron, 2023 IL 128004, ¶¶ 3–6. The action originally started in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and then moved to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. See Cothron v. White Castle Sys., Inc., 477 F. Supp. 3d 723 (N.D. Ill. 2020); Cothron v. White Castle Sys., Inc., 20 F.4th 1156 (7th Cir. 2021). The Seventh Circuit subsequently certified the following question to the Supreme Court of Illinois: “Do section 15(b) and 15(d) claims accrue each time a private entity scans a person’s biometric identifier and each time a private entity transmits such a scan to a third party, respectively, or only upon the first scan and first transmission?” Cothron, 2023 IL 128004, ¶ 1 (quoting Cothron, 20 F.4th at 1167).