On Thursday, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously ruled in McDonald v. Symphony Bronzeville Park LLC that the exclusivity provisions of the state’s workers’ compensation statute do not preclude liquidated damages claims under the Biometric Information Privacy Act. The decision narrows the defenses available to employers facing employment-related BIPA claims.
Illinois’s Workers’ Compensation Act generally provides the exclusive means by which an employee can recover against an employer for a work-related injury and requires such claims to be adjudicated before the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, subject to several exceptions. One of those exceptions is for injuries that are not compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act. At issue in McDonald was whether an alleged employment-based BIPA violation—here, the alleged use of a fingerprint-based timekeeping system without the required disclosures or consent—was the type of injury covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act.
The Illinois Supreme Court held that it is not. It reasoned that the “personal and societal injuries caused by violating the Privacy Act’s prophylactic requirements are different in nature and scope from the physical and psychological work injuries that are compensable under the Compensation Act.” However, in a special concurrence, Justice Burke opined that if a plaintiff asserted damages for mental anguish stemming from the BIPA violation, such a claim would be subject to the workers’ compensation scheme. As a result, while pure claims for statutory damages will be allowed to proceed in court, companies facing employment-related BIPA claims should carefully assess the type of injury alleged in the complaint to determine whether the Workers’ Compensation Act’s exclusivity provisions might apply notwithstanding McDonald.