Six Flags Great America season pass holders could get up to $200 each in $36 million class-action privacy settlement

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Six Flags Great America has agreed to pay $36 million to settle a class-action privacy lawsuit over the use of fingerprint scanners at the entry gates of the Gurnee theme park.

Season pass holders and members who visited Six Flags between Oct. 1, 2013, and Dec. 31, 2018, could receive up to $200 each as part of the latest corporate reckoning for alleged violations of Illinois’ biometric privacy law.

In 2016, Stacy Rosenbach filed the lawsuit in Lake County Circuit Court on behalf of her son, Alexander, after Six Flags allegedly scanned his fingerprint without permission during a school field trip. Six Flags argued that the teenager suffered no actual harm, such as identity theft. The case made it to the Illinois Supreme Court, which in 2019 ruled the state’s privacy law did not require allegations of any injury, allowing the Six Flags class action to proceed.

Without admitting fault or liability, Six Flags agreed to the $36 million settlement, from which class members and attorneys’ fees will be paid. Under the settlement, class members whose fingers were scanned while entering the park between 2013 and 2016 could get up to $200 each, while those who first visited from 2016 to 2018 could get up to $60 each.

The number of visits to the theme park will not increase the payout for an individual, with only the timing of the first visit determining the amount.

Six Flags declined to comment Friday on the settlement.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs are seeking $12 million in fees, or one-third of the settlement amount. Chicago attorney Phillip Bock declined to comment, while Evanston attorney Mark Bulgarelli did not respond to a request for comment.

Claims can be submitted at www.themeparksettlement.com through Oct. 12. The settlement, which received preliminary approval May 14, is pending a final court hearing Oct. 29 at Lake County Circuit Court in Waukegan.

The Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, which was passed in 2008, is among the strictest in the U.S. and requires companies to get permission before using technologies such as facial recognition and fingerprint scans to identify customers.

Six Flags denied it collected biometric identifiers and claimed members and season pass holders were provided with written notice and consented to the use of the finger scanners, according to the settlement agreement.

The state’s privacy law has spawned a number of lawsuits, including one against Facebook that led to a massive $650 million class action settlement approved by a California federal judge in February. The case, initially filed in Cook County Circuit Court in 2015, alleged the social media giant’s use of facial tagging features without consent was prohibited under the law.

Nearly 1.6 million Illinois Facebook users who filed an claim will get about $345 each in the settlement, but payouts have been delayed after three people appealed the court decision in March.

The law allows for $5,000 per person in damages for “intentional or reckless” violations and $1,000 for “negligent” violations.

Six Flags, which was closed last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, will pay approved class members in five annual installments through 2025, according to the settlement agreement.

Six Flags also agreed to post a finger-scan data retention and destruction policy on its website.

Texas-based Six Flags Entertainment Corp. bills itself as the world’s largest regional theme park company, with 27 parks in North America. Many of those parks were closed during the pandemic, with revenue falling to $357 million last year, down from $1.5 billion in 2019, according to the company’s annual report.

Six Flags Great America reopened at reduced attendance levels in April, with 2020 season passes extended through this year.

rchannick@chicagotribune.com