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Massage therapists sue Billings over ordinance aimed at stopping human trafficking

Missing Gavel
Posted at 9:49 AM, Apr 07, 2022

BILLINGS - A group of Billings massage therapists sued the city Wednesday in federal court to overturn an ordinance aimed stopping human trafficking.

Attorneys for the four plaintiffs- massage therapists Theresa Vondra, Donna Podolak, Lynda Larvie and client Adam Poulos- argued in court documents that the April 2021 ordinance violated their clients' Fourth Amendment rights protecting against search and seizure.

The ordinance, passed by the Billings City Council, requires massage-therapy businesses to obtain a special license that prohibits them from allowing employees or clients from removing clothing, bans advertising that suggests they're offering sexual services and bars other activity typically associated with illegal sexual activity.

In addition, the measure allows for code enforcement officers to conduct checks of the business to ensure compliance- a step the plaintiffs' claim is too far.

"The City’s desire to police crime, however laudable, must comply with the Fourth Amendment," they wrote.

The Billings City Council passed the ordinance 8-3 in response to a rash of so-called massage parlors opening in town that were likely fronts for prostitution.

Supporters said the measure gave the city a tool to eradicate these businesses, which likely engaged in human trafficking by bringing in employees to engage in prostitution.

The city had not responded in a court filing as of Wednesday.

Read the full complaint below: