Madison - St. Clair Record

Friday, December 13, 2019

Agricultural products firm accused of unlawful collection, storage of biometric data


By John Breslin | Aug 30, 2019

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BELLEVILLE - An employee is suing an agricultural products company, alleging it illegally collected, stored and used employees' biometric information.

Timothy Cravens filed a class action suit against Agreliant Genetics in St. Clair County Circuit, accusing it of violating elements of the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). He seeks class certification.

The suit is one of many filed in Illinois alleging violations of BIPA, particularly since a state Supreme Court ruling that plaintiffs do not have to show actual harm. It alleges the company required employees have their fingerprints scanned by a biometric timekeeping device. The suit notes that most employers still use ID badges or punch clocks.

Agreliant, which has a number of facilities in Illinois and is involved in the distribution of various agricultural products, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Record.

Brandon Wise, an attorney for the plaintiff, of Pfeiffer, Wolf, Carr and Kane of St. Louis, said this is a case about "protecting citizens’ rights" under the act. "You can get a new credit card, but you can’t realistically get a new fingerprint," Wise told the Record. "The Illinois Supreme Court made clear in January that 'compliance should not be difficult'  but corporations throughout Illinois failed to comply with the mandates of the Biometric Information Privacy Act, even though that law was enacted in 2008."

 The suit argues that the company collected "unique and permanent" information on Cravens and members of the class, exposing them to "serious and irreversible" privacy risks. It also notes there already exists an illegal market for biometric data, and cited cases including one linked to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and a hack that led to the release of information on 1 billion citizens in India.

Under the act, employers must carry out three actions. These are to inform employees in writing, set out a retention schedule, and receive a written release from the worker. Cravens alleges the company violated the latter two provisions.

Cravens seeks trial by jury, $5,000 for each intentional or reckless violation of BIPA, interest, attorney costs and all just and appropriate relief. He is represented by attorneys Brandon Wise and Paul Lesko of Peiffer, Wolf, Carr & Cane APLC in St. Louis.

St. Clair County Circuit Court Case number 19-L-530

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