Amazon COVID-19 Scans Ignore Workers' Rights, Ill. Suit Says

By Lauraann Wood
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Law360 (October 8, 2020, 5:05 PM EDT) -- A former Amazon employee claims in a proposed class action in Illinois state court that the company is violating biometric privacy rights of workers with COVID-19 safety measures that require workers to scan their facial geometry as part of a wellness check.

Former Amazon employee Michael Jerinic argues in a lawsuit made public Wednesday that the e-commerce giant violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act when it implemented facial recognition scans as part of its response to growing safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amazon implemented facial geometry scans and temperature checks as prerequisites for employees to be allowed to enter its warehouses, according to Jerinic's Sept. 28 complaint. But the company never informed its workers that it was collecting biometric identifiers through its facial recognition scans, and it never obtained their consent before requiring them to submit to the practice, Jerinic claims.

As a result, Amazon's Illinois employees have lost their right "to control the collection, use, and storage of their biometric identifiers and information, and were exposed to ongoing, serious, and irreversible privacy risks — simply by going into work," Jerinic claims.

His lawsuit comes on the heels of a recent state appellate decision that claims under Illinois' landmark biometric privacy law are not blocked by the state's workers' compensation law and as the state appellate court is gearing up to decide which statute of limitations governs claims launched under the law.

Jerinic was a yard marshal in one of Amazon's fulfillment warehouses in Mundelein, Illinois, from November 2018 until August, according to his lawsuit.

He says the facial recognition and temperature scans the company implemented in June as a safety response to the novel coronavirus served as prerequisites for him and other employees to gain entry into its facility. He says Amazon's facial recognition devices scan its employees' facial geometry, retinas and irises and claims that the company uses the equipment and software at all its Illinois fulfillment centers and warehouses.

But Amazon never informed its employees' that it was collecting their personal biometric information, or the specific limited reason for doing so, Jerinic alleged. The e-retailer also violated BIPA by failing to obtain their express consent to the practice, and by failing to develop and follow a publicly available schedule governing its storage and destruction of their biometric data, he claimed.

Amazon knew through biometric privacy litigation in 2019 over its "Alexa" devices that its coronavirus safety actions directly violated BIPA, but the company "implemented and continued [its] practice of violating [Jerinic's] and the putative class's legal rights without regard to the law," the lawsuit argued.

Amazon's conduct also raises "a material risk" that third parties will unlawfully access his and other workers' biometric information, Jerinic alleged.

"No amount of time or money can compensate [Jerinic] if his biometric data has been compromised by" Amazon's allegedly unlawful conduct, his suit claimed. "Moreover, [Jerinic] would not have provided his biometric data to [Amazon] if he had known [the company] would retain such information for an indefinite period of time without his consent," he said.

Jerinic seeks to represent a class of similarly situated Amazon employees in Illinois whose biometric facial data or other biometric identifiers were collected, stored, disclosed or otherwise disseminated by the company during the applicable statutory period. He asks the court to award him and the propose class statutory damages of $1,000 for every negligent BIPA violation and $5,000 for ever willful violation found.

Representatives for the parties did not immediately respond Thursday to requests for comment.

Jerinic is represented by Ryan Stephan and Catherine Mitchell of Stephan Zouras LLP.

Counsel information for Amazon could not immediately be determined Thursday.

The case is Michael Jerinic v. Inc. et al., case number 2020-CH-06036, in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois.  

--Editing by Peter Rozovsky.

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