Illinois Appellate Court Explains the Illinois Employee Credit Privacy Act

On December 3, 2019, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer-defendant in a lawsuit in which an unsuccessful job applicant alleged that her rights under the Illinois Employee Credit Privacy Act ("Act") were violated when she was not hired as a result of an investigation of her credit history.  Rivera v. Commonwealth Edison Company, 2019 IL App (1st) 182676 (12/3/2019).  The plaintiff claimed that the defendant's actions of investigating her credit history in connection with a conditional offer of employment and refusing to hire her because of the results of the investigation violated the Act.

The Act provides that an employer shall not: (1) fail or refuse to hire or recruit, discharge, or otherwise discriminate against an individual with respect to employment, compensation, or a term, condition, or privilege of employment because of the individual's credit history or credit report; (2) inquire about an applicant's or employee's credit history; or (3) order or obtain an applicant's or employee's credit report from a consumer reporting agency.  The defendant argued that these prohibitions did not apply to the position for which the plaintiff had been a candidate.  Defendant contended that the position at issue involved access to personal or confidential information of ComEd's customers, and, therefore, it qualified for an exception under the Act, where a satisfactory credit history is an established bona fide occupational requirement of a particular position.  For the exception to apply, the position must involve access to personal or confidential information, financial information, trade secrets, or State or national security information.  Personal or confidential information is defined under the Act as sensitive information that: (1) a customer or client of the employer gives explicit authorization to the employer to obtain, process, and keep; (2) that the employer entrusts only to managers and a select few employees; or (3) that is stored in secured repositories not accessible by the public or low-level employees.  The First District held that the customer information at issue satisfied the statutory definition of personal or confidential information because it is sensitive information that is stored in secure repositories not accessible by the public or low-level employees.  

Illinois employers should familiarize themselves with the requirements of the Illinois Credit Privacy Act and adopt compliant personnel policies in their employee handbooks.