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Beverage Giant Sued Under Illinois Genetic Privacy Law

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April 15, 2024

Cathy Sagle


April 9, 2024

Reyes Holdings, the largest beer distributor in the United States, has been sued in Illinois state court by a proposed class of job applicants who claim their genetic privacy rights were violated when they were required to submit to physical exams and inquiries about their family medical history as a condition of employment at the beverage distributor or its subsidiaries.

Reyes Holdings requires employees to be seen by a doctor as part of the job application process, during which information is solicited regarding the "manifestation of diseases" in the applicant's family members, according to the complaint filed Wednesday in Cook County.

Lead plaintiff Antonio Pénaloza asserts that the company did so in violation of the Illinois Genetic Information Privacy Act, an Illinois law barring employers from asking about genetic information and using it to make employment decisions.

Pénaloza says he applied for a maintenance mechanic position at a Reyes Holdings facility in Niles, Illinois, last year. During that hiring process and the required physical, Pénaloza says he was asked whether his family had a history of heart disease, diabetes and other medical conditions, putting him in a position where he disclosed sensitive genetic information.

He seeks to represent a class of all people in Illinois who applied for employment at Reyes Holdings and who were asked for, or disclosed, family medical history or other genetic information, according to the company's records.

The Illinois law prohibits employers from directly or indirectly requesting that kind of information and using it in hiring, firing, demoting or determining work assignments or classifications of applicants and employees.

There has been a wave of lawsuits in recent months filed under the previously little-used law, which was first enacted in 1998. The trend has left the defense bar wondering if the litigation will follow a similar path as Illinois' Biometric Privacy Act, which has flooded Illinois courts with privacy complaints, and open companies to potentially explosive liability.

GIPA provides damages of $2,500 for every negligent violation and $15,000 for every willful violation, according to the complaint.

Representatives for the parties could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

The job applicants are represented by Andrew T. Heldut, Timothy P. Kingsbury and Colin P. Buscarini of McGuire Law PC.

Counsel information for Reyes Holdings was not immediately available Friday.

The case is Pénaloza et al. v. Reyes Holdings LLC, case number 2023CH02835, in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois.