Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Montana High Court Upholds Extending Workers Comp Law To Hutterites

In Big Sky Colony, Inc. v. Montana Department of Labor and Industry, (MT Sup. Ct., Dec. 31, 2012), the Montana Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision upheld against constitutional attack amendments to the state's workers compensation law that brings Hutterite Colonies within the definition of those covered when their members perform agricultural, manufacturing or construction services even though members do not receive wages. Instead Hutterites receive food, shelter, clothing and medical care from the Colony.  The new law applies so long as the Colony receives remuneration from outsiders for member services. The majority rejected free exercise, establishment clause and equal protection challenges to the law, finding that the law is neutral in its application and does not single out religious beliefs.

Justice Rice, joined by Justices Cotter and Nelson, dissented arguing that the legislature "created a clear religious gerrymander" in response to complaints about Hutterite colonies competing with other Montana businesses without have to provide workers' compensation insurance. Justice Nelson also filed a separate dissent.  AP reported on the court's decision.