Takeaways: In Palacios v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, LP, Case No. 18-CH-16030 (Cir. Ct. Cook County, Ill. Mar. 16, 2023), a state trial court in Illinois granted Plaintiff’s motion for class certification in an Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (the “BIPA”) class action. Given the limited jurisprudence in BIPA class action certification rulings, this decision is an important read for corporate counsel, as the ruling likely will be used as a roadmap by the plaintiffs’ bar to support their efforts to certify such classes.
Plaintiff alleged that Defendant required him and other employees to scan their fingerprints into a biometric time clock system to record the time they worked, and unlawfully collected, possessed, and transferred their biometric information without consent and without a proper retention and destruction schedule. Plaintiff sought to certify a class of all hourly employees who enrolled in or used Defendant’s timekeeping system while working for Defendant between August 9, 2014, and October 15, 2019.
In terms of the four factors to certify the class – numerosity, adequacy of representation, commonality, and appropriateness – Defendant did not challenge the numerosity factor. However, Defendant challenged the motion for class certification regarding the other three factors.
The Court’s Decision
The Court granted Plaintiff’s motion for class certification. First, the Court held that the named Plaintiff was an adequate class representative. Defendant argued that, based on Plaintiff’s deposition testimony, he was, “uninformed and disinterested in the facts, the litigation, and his role as class representative.” The Court rejected this argument, holding that, “while [Plaintiff] may not understand legal jargon . . . he understands the basic facts . . . understands he is making a legal claim for violation privacy rights on behalf of a class of other employees [and] has been in regular communication with his counsel and participated in discovery.” Accordingly, the Court found that Plaintiff would adequately represent the putative class.
Second, the Court held that the commonality factor was met. Defendant contended that Plaintiff was at odds with the rest of the class since he alleged that he suffered emotional distress damages. The Court rejected this argument, holding that Plaintiff testified that he was harmed through a breach of his biometric information privacy rights and was pursuing the same claims on behalf of class members. Accordingly, the Court held that common questions predominated over questions affecting individual class members.
Finally, the Court explained that, “a class action must be an appropriate method for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy.” Id. (citations and quotations omitted). The Court opined that many individuals incurred relatively small liquidated damages and their likely recovery was probably too small to justify a separate action. However, collectively, the Court could adjudicate the putative class’s claims, as it noted, “This is what class actions were designed to achieve.” Id. Accordingly, the Court held that a class action was the appropriate method for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy.
Implications For Employers
While employers are likely still recovering from the sting of adverse Illinois Supreme Court BIPA class action rulings from early 2023, this decision marks another victory for the plaintiff’s bar. Defendants in BIPA class actions who are facing motions for class certification would be wise to avoid duplicating the arguments made here. In light of the shrinking number of potential BIPA defenses and skyrocketing damages, employers must begin exploring alternative defense strategies to combat these bet-the-company cases.