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Can unionized employees sue their employers in court for violations of Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA)? In a rare victory for BIPA defendants, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously ruled they cannot.

The plaintiff in Walton v. Roosevelt University was an SEIU union member who had worked as a security guard for Roosevelt University in Chicago. His BIPA lawsuit alleged Roosevelt required him and other unionized workers to provide hand-geometry scans, for timekeeping purposes, without their consent.

The Illinois Supreme Court concluded Walton’s BIPA claims could not proceed in state court. Namely, because Walton agreed to a collective bargaining agreement between his union and Roosevelt, the Court found his BIPA claims preempted under federal labor law—specifically, Section 301 of the Labor Management Rights Act (LMRA). 

The Illinois Supreme Court did not write on a blank slate. In recent years, federal courts have consistently ruled union members’ BIPA claims are preempted by the LMRA. By deferring to those federal decisions, the Illinois Supreme Court shut the door on union members seeking to litigate BIPA claims in state court.

Putting It Into Practice: Walton should stop unionized employees from bringing new BIPA claims in state and federal court. Walton also forecloses unionized employees from bringing BIPA claims on a class action basis. Companies on the receiving end of a BIPA lawsuit from a current or former union member should always explore a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on preemption grounds.