HELENA — A lawsuit filed Wednesday challenged the constitutionality of the 2021 law. This allowed Montana insurers to factor gender and marital status into their risk calculations.
Financial institutions in Montana cannot yet discriminate based solely on gender or marital status. But under the 2021 law, lawmakers made an exception allowing companies to use a person’s gender and marital status as data points in assessing risk and setting premiums.
In a press release Thursday, plaintiffs’ attorneys said the law violated the state constitution, which not only prohibits discrimination based on sex, but also “separates people based on unreasonable classifications.” It broadly protects against different treatment.”
Plaintiffs are represented by Upper Seven Law Attorney and former Democratic Rep. Kimberly Dudik. They filed suit in Lewis and Clark District Court. Montana Rep. Sue Vinton (R-Billings) implemented House Bill 379, which created an exception.
According to an Upper Seven Law press release, “legislators claimed HB 379 was particularly suitable for women, but data could not be scrutinized.”
The lawsuit is one of nearly a dozen lawsuits filed against legislation passed by Congress in 2021. Upper Seven Law was part of the legal team that received several permanent injunctions on the 2021 election law.
Montana auditor and Securities and Insurance Commissioner Troy Downing has been named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Downing spokesperson Sam Loveridge said in a statement Thursday that all fees filed with the General Accounting Office “are reviewed to ensure they are not excessive, inappropriate or unfairly discriminatory.” Stated.
“Our office is asking companies to demonstrate that their male and female premium rates are actuarially justified,” Loveridge said.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Rylee Sommers-Flanagan said the problem goes beyond laws that allow insurers to use data about gender and marital status to set premiums. The law makes the use of these elements a non-discriminatory practice. This means people cannot use the Montana Department of Human Rights to seek help with discriminatory insurance decisions, Somers Flanagan said.
Montana’s human rights process can save time and money for those seeking relief from discrimination, Somers Flanagan said. Without it, anyone who challenges insurance rates as being discriminatory would have to challenge it in court under the constitution, she said.
Kyle Schmauk, a spokesperson for the legislative majority leader, said the bill aligns Montana with 49 other states with similar laws. Insurers already use gender as a factor when evaluating risks such as car insurance, Schmauf said. Some schemes charge lower premiums for women because they are considered less dangerous to drive, he said.
But Montana’s unisex requirement for insurance did not result in insurers setting unisex risk ratings, Schmauch said. Instead, companies use men’s rates and charge more for women, he said.
Plaintiffs disagree, stating in a press release that rates based solely on gender are “arbitrarily discriminatory” and may lead to “inconsistent and inconsistent pricing.”
“As a result, both men and women face unpredictable discrimination in various insurance markets,” said the release.