Hilarie Carhill and Daniel Ugaste
On February 3, 2022, the Illinois Supreme Court held that claims under the Biometric Information Privacy Act (Privacy Act) are not barred by the Workers’ Compensation Act’s (Compensation Act’s) exclusive remedy provisions and therefore, claimants may seek redress in the Circuit Court and not at the Workers’ Compensation Commission. In Marquita McDonald v. Symphony Bronzeville Park, the Court accepted Bronzeville’s interlocutory appeal in order to provide this answer to a certified question. Marquita McDonald v. Symphony Bronzeville Park, LLC, IL 126511, 2022.
In reaching this conclusion, the Supreme Court performed an analysis of each of the Acts and what they were intended to cover. The Court noted, the exclusivity provisions in the Compensation Act (sections 5(a) and 11) function so that an employee’s physical or psychological accidental injuries, that arise out of and in the course of his/her employment, must be brought exclusively to the Workers’ Compensation Commission, instead of as civil lawsuits in state or federal court. The only way to avoid the exclusivity of the Act is for an employee to prove: (1) it was not accidental; (2) it did not arise out of the employment; (3) it did not occur in the course of employment; or (4) it was not compensable under the Compensation Act. The Court focused on the fourth factor – whether the injury was compensable under the Compensation Act.
After a detailed analysis of the case law, the Court found that the type of injury covered under each Act is distinctly different, which warrants separate forums. The Compensation Act is meant to cover medically documented physical and psychological injuries, providing financial protection for an employee’s impaired earning capacity. By contrast, the Privacy Act provides specific recourse to civil court, in the context of employment or for the general public. Employees who have experienced violations of the Privacy Act have an injury of special character that may not require medical care.
In support of its finding, the Supreme Court noted that as a matter of legislative intent, generally, later-enacted statutes control over earlier statutes, and more-specific statutes control over general acts. Further, the Privacy Act was enacted after the Compensation Act and is more specific.
The final argument presented by the defense in McDonald was that a finding for McDonald could lead to unmitigated exposure in civil court, for corporations who have committed technical violations of the Privacy Act. But the Court responded that this concern of whether the statute strikes a proper balance between violation and damages, is one for the legislature; the Court is limited to interpret the law as it has been written.
The Supreme Court’s Decision provides clarity as to the breadth of exclusive remedy provision of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. This Decision will also allow for the vast number of paused Biometric Privacy Act lawsuits to now proceed.
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