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Employers With Broad Management Rights Under a CBA Spared From Some BIPA Litigation

Labor & Employment Publications

In a unanimous decision, the Illinois Supreme Court determined that the Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”) is pre-empted by the Labor Management Relations Act for many employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Following precedent set by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the Court ruled that a “broad management rights clause” can be invoked by an employer to avoid litigating a BIPA claim in state court.

In Walton v. Roosevelt University, William Walton filed a class action complaint against his former employer, Roosevelt University, alleging that Roosevelt’s collection, use, storage, and disclosure of employee Walton’s biometric data violated BIPA. Walton sought damages, injunctive relief, and reasonable attorney fees under BIPA.

The Illinois Supreme Court held that Walton’s claim was preempted by section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, which gives the federal government jurisdiction over the enforcement of terms in most labor contracts. Thus, a claim under BIPA is preempted because it is ultimately an issue of timekeeping, a topic for negotiation that is “clearly covered by” a broad management rights clause in a collective bargaining agreement.

In so holding, the Illinois Supreme Court followed earlier decisions of the Seventh Circuit court of appeals– including Fernandez v. Kerry (2018) (holding that unionized employees’ claims that their employer violated BIPA were preempted by the LMRA) and Miller v. Southwest Airlines (2019) (holding that a BIPA claim brought by airline employees subject to a collective bargaining agreement is preempted by the Railway Labor Act which governs labor relations within the railroad and airline industries).  The Court ultimately agreed with Roosevelt University, and found that, while there was no specific reference to biometric information in the collective bargaining agreement, the broad authority granted to the employer in the management rights clause preempted a BIPA action brought in state court.

Given that the Illinois Supreme Court’s expansive interpretation of BIPA in other cases has exposed non-compliant employers to substantial and potentially business ending liability in some cases, this case attracted extensive amicus. Amicus curiae briefs were filed by the National Employment Lawyers Association, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 705, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America, the Restaurant Law Center, the National Retail Federation, and the Illinois Restaurant Association.

This ruling doesn’t mean that employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement with a broad management rights clause are necessarily prohibited from pursuing a claim for a violation of their right to biometric privacy. Instead, in such cases any remedy must be pursued through the grievance procedures in their collective bargaining rather than through a class action lawsuit in court.

If you have questions about whether a CBA guards against liability resulting from direct BIPA claims, please reach out to a Franczek attorney.