The United States division of international sandwich and coffee chain Pret A Manger has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit in Illinois after allegations that it violated individual biometric privacy of employees through fingerprinting without proper consent.
Lawyers for plaintiff Kayla Quarles, a Pret A Manger employee from April 2018 to January 2019, originally filed the class action suit in November of 2020 in the Cook County U.S. District Court.
Last week, the court granted initial approval of a settlement agreement in the amount of $677,450. The settlement fund would be used to compensate the 797 current and former Pret A Manger employees in the class, which breaks down to about $518 per employee after attorneys’ fees.
In accepting the $677,450 settlement, U.S. District Court Judge Manish S. Shah wrote:
The expected relief to class members provides monetary relief that well compensates class members for an alleged injury that likely caused no tangible harm. The attorneys’ fees expected are high but within the range of approval and do not detract from the value received by class members.
The suit alleges that the JAB-owned coffee chain was in violation of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, designed to protect privacy rights regarding unique and unchangeable biometric information such as fingerprints.
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According to the suit, Pret A Manger required employees in Illinois — which included 13 locations, all in Chicago, at the time of the complaint — to submit their fingerprints for use in a timekeeping system that used biometric data. The suit claims the coffee company did not adhere to conditions related to written consent and destruction of data outlined in the biometric privacy law.
Illinois’ biometric data privacy act has been a lightning rod for class action suits since it became the first state to pass such legislation in 2008. Texas and Washington later followed with less stringent legislation. According to a recent Bloomberg Law analysis, there are currently 24 states that have active or proposed biometric privacy laws, often related to fingerprinting or facial recognition.
U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (Oregon) and Bernie Sanders (Vermont) introduced the National Biometric Information Privacy Act of 2020, which died in Congress.