On September 27, 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, ruled in favor of a job applicant who claimed that she was denied employment because she failed a credit check, in violation of the Employee Credit Privacy Act (the “Act”). Ohle v. Neiman Marcus Group, 2016 IL App (1st) 141994 (9/27/2016). The Act prohibits an employer from inquiring into a potential employee’s credit history and refusing to hire or discriminating against a job applicant because of her or his credit history. The Act provides an exemption where a satisfactory credit history is an established bona fide occupational requirement of the job. There are seven exemptions. The defendant claimed the exemption that the position gave the employee access to personal and confidential customer information. Trial court agreed with the defendant that the position fell within the exemption, but the appellate court reversed.
It was uncontested that the defendant did not hire the plaintiff because she failed her credit check. An individual who is injured by a violation of the Act may bring a civil action for damages and injunctive relief, including litigation costs and attorneys’ fees. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant violated the Act by refusing to hire her and discriminating against her based on her credit history; and that a satisfactory credit check is not a bona fide occupational requirement under the Act for a dress collection sales associate position. The appellate court found that retail sales associates are neither managers nor select few employees with whom the defendant entrusts personal and confidential customer information. Therefore, the sales associate position is not exempt from the requirements of the Act; and the defendant violated the Act by denying the plaintiff employment and discriminating against her because of her credit history. In reaching its decision, the appellate court considered the statutory intent and legislative history of the Act.