Women’s groups sue state of Montana over alleged discrimination in insurance law 

By: - November 3, 2022 5:27 pm

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comments from the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance.

Women’s organizations were among plaintiffs suing the State of Montana over a law that permits setting insurance rates based on sex or marital status that passed during the 2021 legislative session. 

Plaintiffs claim in a lawsuit filed Wednesday that House Bill 379 allows for discriminatory practices from insurance companies and gives individuals no legal recourse as would be typical through the Montana Human Rights Act. 

HB 379 amended the Montana Code Annotated section that had prohibited discrimination based on sex or marital status in insurance plans, policies and coverage in the state since the 1980s. 

Montana chapters of the National Organization for Women and the American Association of University Women were among the plaintiffs, as well as state Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, and Willard Randall, an unmarried Missoula resident. 

“I expect to pay insurance premiums that take into account my driving record or my claims history. But being a woman or unmarried just isn’t relevant to any assessment of risk,” said plaintiff Kiah Abbey of Forward Montana in a press release. 

State Auditor Troy Downing, a named defendant in the suit, referred to HB 379 as his own legislation in a press release when it was signed into law in April 2021. In the release he said not allowing insurance companies to consider gender in rate-making “artificially inflated insurance premiums for women, particularly in life and auto insurance.”

“This bill helps consumers, helps businesses and promotes a more competitive marketplace,” he said in the 2021 release.

In a statement to the Daily Montanan, the auditor’s office said:

All rates submitted to our agency are reviewed to ensure they are not excessive, inadequate, or unfairly discriminatory. Our office requires companies clearly demonstrate that the gender distinct premium rates are actuarially justified. We require the companies to demonstrate the rates are based on credible experience and are statistically and actuarially justified.

Allowing sex to be used, among many other factors, when determining rates allows insurers to price closer to actuarially indicated risk. The law does not require companies to change their ratings to gender-based rates; therefore, some companies are still using unisex rates.

Commissioner Downing stands by the statements made when supporting this bill to end discriminatory rating in Montana markets and will work to defend this critical Legislation.”

Plaintiffs allege HB 379 violates both the equal protection and special legislation provisions of the Montana Constitution, quoting a 2009 lawsuit that outlined special legislation as conferring “particular privileges or disabilities upon a class of persons arbitrarily selected from a larger group of persons.”

The organizations outlined in the complaint that “allowing insurance companies to consider sex and marital status simply gives them one more tool to increase profits and leads to unpredictable discrimination against Montana consumers across different insurance classes.”

The bill was introduced in the 2021 legislature by Rep. Sue Vinton, R-Billings, Larry Brewster, R-Billings and Rep. Rhonda Knudsen, R-Culbertson. 

Randall said that as a small business owner in Missoula, he believes in treating each client fairly. 

“I’ve been paying premiums for car, home, and business insurance for decades.  For insurance companies to be able to raise my rates now, only because of my sex or marital status, makes no sense at all,” Randall said.

Niki Zupanic and Rylee Sommers-Flanagan of Upper Seven Law and Kimberly Dudik of Kimberly Dudik & Associates represent the plaintiffs.

House Bill 379 is one of more than two dozens bills passed by the 2021 Legislature that have been challenged in court.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Nicole Girten
Nicole Girten

Nicole Girten is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune as a government watchdog reporter. She holds a degree from Florida State University and a Master of Science from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.