In a ruling that may have significant impact on the recent wave of biometric privacy suits, an Illinois state appeals court held that plaintiffs must claim actual harm to be considered an “aggrieved person” covered by Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), in a dispute arising from the alleged unlawful collection of fingerprints from a Six Flags season pass holder. Rosenbach v. Six Flags Entertainment Corp., 2017 IL App (2d) 170317 (Ill. App. Ct. Dec. 21, 2017).

The plaintiff, whose son’s fingerprint was collected by Six Flags after purchasing a season pass for one of its Great America amusement parks, filed suit on behalf of her son and similarly situated class members, against Great America LLC and Six Flags Entertainment Corp. for allegedly violating Illinois’ BIPA by failing to obtain proper written consent or disclosing their plan for the collection, use, storage, or destruction of her son’s biometric information. The plaintiff further claimed that had she known of Six Flags’ collection of fingerprints, she would not have allowed her son to purchase a season pass.

Six Flags argued in a motion to dismiss that the BIPA allows only “aggrieved” individuals to sue for all alleged violations, and that the plaintiff’s son and other similar plaintiffs who had not suffered actual harm have not met the necessary threshold to bring a claim.

After a lower court denied Six Flags’ motion to dismiss, the Illinois’ state appeals court three-judge panel held that in order for a plaintiff to meet the definition of “aggrieved person” under the BIPA, a plaintiff must demonstrate actual harm.

If the Illinois legislature intended to allow for a private cause of action for every technical violation of the act, it could have omitted the word ‘aggrieved’ and stated that every violation was actionable,” the panel ruled. “A determination that a technical violation of the statute is actionable would render the word ‘aggrieved’ superfluous. Therefore, a plaintiff who alleges only a technical violation of the statute without alleging some injury or adverse effect is not an aggrieved person under … the act.

Employment BIPA Class Actions

With over 30 employment class actions filed against employers in Illinois state court since July 2017 claiming BIPA violations for implementation of biometric technology, the Six Flags ruling represents a significant victory. We recently reported on a putative class action filed by employees against their employer, Oak Park Rehabilitation & Nursing Center LLC, alleging that mandatory daily biometric fingerprint scans violate employees’ privacy rights under the BIPA. Similar to the suit against Oak Park, the recent flood of employee class actions allege employer misuse of timekeeping systems that collect fingerprint scans. They claim the employer failed to provide proper notification and obtain written consent or neglected to institute a valid use policy.

Although the Six Flags decision represent a win for employers, plaintiffs will likely continue to attempt alternative legal arguments to claim that an individual is an “aggrieved person” under the BIPA. Accordingly, companies that want to implement technology that uses employee or customer biometric information (for timekeeping, physical security, validating transactions, or other purposes) need to be prepared.

Below are additional resources to help navigate biometric information protection laws:

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Joe also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits practice group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Joe counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Joe’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Joe speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Joe served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.