On September 27, the Illinois Court of Appeals reversed a ruling in favor of Neiman Marcus, finding that the department store violated the Illinois Employee Credit Privacy Act, 820 ILCS 70/1 et seq., when it ran background checks on potential employees. The Act prohibits an employer from inquiring into a potential employee’s credit history, and prohibits an employer from refusing to hire the applicant or discriminating against the applicant because of his or her credit history. The Act, however, provides certain exemptions where a “satisfactory credit history” may be used as a requirement for a particular position, including when the position involves access to personal, confidential, or financial information.
Plaintiff Catherine Ohle originally filed a class action lawsuit against Neiman Marcus after she was denied employment as a sales associate based on a background check that revealed several civil judgments against her and several accounts in collection. Ohle argued that running a background check for an entry-level position violated the Illinois state statute. Neiman Marcus claimed that the sales associate position gave the employee “access” to personal and confidential information which exempted it from the statute’s requirements.
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Neiman Marcus. The appellate court, however, reversed and remanded, finding that sales associates are merely conduits of confidential information and turn that information over to managers or employees Neiman Marcus entrusts with the information. “[T]he legislative purpose behind the Act is to help those who have fallen on hard times find employment and the Act does not apply to those employees performing simple tasks at cash registers,” stated the Court.