There is a strong presumption that discriminations in state
legislation are based on adequate grounds, and the mere fact that a
law regulating certain classes might properly have included others
does not condemn it under the equal protection clause. P.
249 U. S.
The Texas Workmen's Compensation Act, regulating the rights
Page 249 U. S. 153
liabilities of employers and employees respecting disabling and
fatal injuries in the employment, is expressly inapplicable to
domestic servants, farm laborers, common carrier railway employees,
laborers in cotton gins, and employees of employers employing not
more than five. Held
that there are adequate grounds for
each of these exceptions. Id.
The discrimination resulting between employees engaged in the
same kind of work where one employer exercises his option to come
under the act and another does not is likewise consistent with the
equal protection clause. P. 249 U. S.
Construed as binding all employees who remain in the employment
after notice that their employer has subscribed to compensation
insurance under it, the act is not open to the objection of being
optional to the employer while compulsory upon his employees when
he accepts it, since the latter, by thus remaining, exercise their
option also. P. 249 U. S.
As the status of employer and employee is voluntary, and in view
of their different relations to the common undertaking, it is
clearly within legislative discretion, and not a denial of equal
protection, to leave the initiative to the former in adopting the
new terms of employment, with the option to the latter of accepting
them, too, after notice, or withdrawing from the service.
A plan imposing upon the employer responsibility for making
compensation for disabling or fatal injuries, irrespective of the
question of fault, and requiring the employee to assume all risk of
damages over and above the statutory schedule, when established as
a reasonable substitute for the legal measure of duty and
responsibility previously existing, may be made compulsory upon
employees as well as employers without depriving either of liberty
in violation of the due process clause. P. 249 U. S.
108 Tex. 96 affirmed.
The case is stated in the opinion.
MR. JUSTICE PITNEY delivered the opinion of the Court.
Alleging that, in the month of December, 1913, he was in the
employ of the Texas Power & Light Company in the
Page 249 U. S. 154
State of Texas, and while so employed received serious personal
injuries through the bursting of a steam pipe due to the negligence
of his employer and its agents, Middleton sued the company in a
district court of that state to recover his damages. The defendant
interposed an answer in the nature of a plea in abatement setting
up that, at the time of the accident and at the commencement of the
action, defendant was the holder of a policy of liability and
compensation insurance, issued in its favor by a company lawfully
transacting such business in the state, conditioned to pay the
compensation provided by the Texas Workmen's Compensation Act,
which was approved April 16, 1913, and took effect on the 1st day
of September in that year (c. 179, Acts of 33d Legislature), of
which fact the plaintiff had proper and timely notice as provided
by the act, and that no claim for the compensation provided in the
act with respect to the alleged injury had been made by plaintiff,
but, on the contrary, he had refused to receive such compensation,
with other matters sufficient to bring defendant within the
protection of the act. Plaintiff took a special exception in the
nature of a demurrer, upon the ground (among others) that the act
was in conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution
of the United States. The exception was overruled, the plea in
abatement sustained, and the action dismissed. On appeal to the
Court of Civil Appeals, it was at first held that the judgment must
be reversed (178 S.W. 956), but, upon an application for a
rehearing, the constitutional questions were certified to the
supreme court of the state. That court sustained the
constitutionality of the law (108 Tex. 96), and, in obedience to
its opinion, the Court of Civil Appeals set aside its former
judgment and affirmed the judgment of the district court. Thereupon
the present writ of error was sued out under § 237, Judicial Code,
as amended by Act of September 6, 1916, c. 448, § 2, 39 Stat.
Page 249 U. S. 155
Thus, we have presented, from the standpoint of an objecting
employee, the question whether the Texas Employers' Liability Act
is in conflict with the due process and equal protection provisions
of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The act creates an employers' insurance association, to which
any employer of labor in the state, with exceptions to be
mentioned, may become a subscriber, and out of the funds of this
association, derived from premiums on policies of liability
insurance issued by it to subscribing members and assessments
authorized against them if necessary, the compensation provided by
the act as due on account of personal injuries sustained by their
employees, or on account of death resulting from such injuries, is
to be paid. This is a stated compensation, fixed with relation to
the employe's average weekly wages, and accrues to him absolutely
when he suffers a personal injury in the course of his employment
incapacitating him from earning wages for as long a period as one
week, or to his representatives or beneficiaries in the event of
his death from such injury, whether or not it be due to the
negligence of the employer or his servants or agents. Such
compensation is the statutory substitute for damages otherwise
recoverable because of injuries suffered by an employee or his
death occasioned by such injuries when due to the negligence of the
employer or his servants, it being declared that the employee of a
subscribing employer, or his representatives or beneficiaries in
case of his death, shall have no cause of action against the
employer for damages except where a death is caused by the willful
act or omission or gross negligence of the employer. Employers who
do not become subscribers are subject, as before, to suits for
damages based on negligence for injuries to employees or for death
resulting therefrom, and are deprived of the so-called "common law
defenses" of fellow servant's negligence and assumed risk, and also
Page 249 U. S. 156
negligence as an absolute defense, it being provided that, for
contributory negligence, damages shall be diminished except where
the employer's violation of a statute enacted for the safety of
employees contributes to the injury or death, but that, where the
injury is caused by the willful intention of the employee to bring
it about, the employer may defend on that ground. Every employer
becoming a subscriber to the insurance association is required to
give written or printed notice to all his employees that he has
provided for the payment by the association of compensation for
injuries received by them in the course of their employment. Under
certain conditions, an employer holding a liability policy issued
by an insurance company lawfully transacting such business within
the state is to be deemed a subscriber within the meaning of the
act. There are administrative provisions, including procedure for
the determination of disputed claims. By § 2 of Part 1, it is
enacted as follows:
"The provisions of this act shall not apply to actions to
recover damages for the personal injuries or for death resulting
from personal injuries sustained by domestic servants, farm
laborers, nor to the employees of any person, firm or corporation
operating any railway as a common carrier, nor to laborers engaged
in working for a cotton gin, nor to employees of any person, firm
or corporation having in his or their employ not more than five
Following the order adopted in the argument of plaintiff in
error, we deal first with the contention that the act amounts to a
denial of the equal protection of the laws. This is based in part
upon the classification resulting from the provisions of the
section just quoted, it being said that employees of the excepted
classes are left entitled to certain privileges which by the act
are denied to employees of the nonexcepted classes, without
reasonable basis for the distinction.
Of course, plaintiff in error, not being an employee in
Page 249 U. S. 157
any of the excepted classes, would not be heard to assert any
grievance they might have by reason of being excluded from the
operation of the act. Southern Ry. Co. v. King,
217 U. S. 524
217 U. S. 534
Standard Stock Food Co. v. Wright, 225 U.
, 225 U. S. 550
Rosenthal v. New York, 226 U. S. 260
226 U. S. 271
Plymouth Coal Co. v. Pennsylvania, 232 U.
, 232 U. S. 544
Jeffrey Mfg. Co. v. Blagg, 235 U.
, 235 U. S. 576
But plaintiff in error sets up a grievance as a member of a class
to which the act is made to apply.
However, we are clear that the classification cannot be held to
be arbitrary and unreasonable. The Supreme Court of Texas, in
sustaining it, said (108 Tex. 110-111):
"Employes of railroads, those of employers having less than five
employees, domestic servants, farm laborers, and gin laborers are
excluded from the operation of the act, but this was doubtless for
reasons that the legislature deemed sufficient. The nature of these
several employments, the existence of other laws governing
liability for injuries to railroad employees, known experience as
to the hazards and extent of accidental injuries to farm hands, gin
hands, and domestic servants were all matters no doubt considered
by the legislature in exempting them from the operation of the act.
Distinctions in these and other respects between them and employees
engaged in other industrial pursuits may, we think, be readily
suggested. We are not justified in saying that the classification
was purely arbitrary."
There is a strong presumption that a legislature understands and
correctly appreciates the needs of its own people, that its laws
are directed to problems made manifest by experience, and that its
discriminations are based upon adequate grounds. The equal
protection clause does not require that state laws shall cover the
entire field of proper legislation in a single enactment. If one
entertained the view that the act might as well have been extended
to other classes of employment, this would not
Page 249 U. S. 158
amount to a constitutional objection. Rosenthal v. New
York, 226 U. S. 260
226 U. S. 271
Patsone v. Pennsylvania, 232 U. S. 138
232 U. S. 144
Missouri, Kansas & Texas Ry. v. Cade, 233 U.
, 233 U. S.
-650; International Harvester Co. v.
Missouri, 234 U. S. 199
234 U. S. 215
Keokee Coke Co. v. Taylor, 234 U.
, 234 U. S. 227
Miller v. Wilson, 236 U. S. 373
236 U. S.
The burden being upon him who attacks a law for
unconstitutionality, the courts need not be ingenious in searching
for grounds of distinction to sustain a classification that may be
subjected to criticism. But in this case, adequate grounds are
easily discerned. As to the exclusion of railroad employees, the
existence of the Federal Employers' Liability Act of April 22,
1908, c. 149, 35 Stat. 65, as amended by act April 5, 1910, c. 143,
36 Stat. 291, applying exclusively as to employees of common
carriers by rail injured while employed in interstate commerce,
establishing liability for negligence and exempting from liability
in the absence of negligence in all cases within its reach (New
York Central R. Co. v. Winfield, 244 U.
; Erie R. Co. v. Winfield, 244 U.
), and the difficulty that so often arises in
determining in particular instances whether the employee was
employed in interstate commerce at the time of the injury (see
Pedersen v. Delaware, Lackawanna & Western R. Co.,
229 U. S. 146
229 U. S.
-152; North Carolina R. Co. v. Zachary,
232 U. S. 248
232 U. S.
-260; Illinois Central R. Co. v. Behrens,
233 U. S. 473
233 U. S. 478
New York Central R. Co. v. Carr, 238 U.
, 238 U. S. 263
Pennsylvania Co. v. Donat, 239 U. S.
; Shanks v. Delaware, Lackawanna & Western R.
Co., 239 U. S. 556
239 U. S. 559
Louisville & Nashville R. Co. v. Parker, 242 U. S.
; Erie R. Co. v. Welsh, 242 U.
, 242 U. S. 306
Southern Ry. Co. v. Puckett, 244 U.
, 244 U. S.
), reasonably may have led the legislature to the
view that it would be unwise to attempt to apply the new system to
railroad employees, in whatever kind of commerce employed, and that
they might better be left to common law actions with statutory
Page 249 U. S. 159
modifications already in force (Vernon's Sayles' Texas Civ.Stat.
1914, arts. 6640-6652), and such others as experience might show to
be called for.
The exclusion of farm laborers and domestic servants from the
compulsory scheme of the New York Workmen's Compensation Act was
sustained in New York Central R. Co. v. White,
243 U. S. 188
243 U. S. 208
upon the ground that the legislature reasonably might consider that
the risks inherent in those occupations were exceptionally patent,
simple, and familiar. The same result has been reached by the state
courts generally. Opinion of Justices,
209 Mass. 607, 610;
Young v. Duncan,
218 Mass. 346, 349; Hunter v. Colfax
175 Ia. 245; Sayles v. Foley,
38 R.I. 484,
490-492. Similar reasoning may be applied to cotton gin laborers in
Texas; indeed, it was applied to them by the supreme court of that
state, as we have seen. And the exclusion of domestic servants,
farm laborers, casual employees, and railroad employees engaged in
interstate commerce was sustained in Mathison v. Minneapolis
Street Ry. Co.,
126 Minn. 286, 293.
The exclusion of employees where not more than four or five are
under a single employer is common in legislation of this character,
and evidently permissible upon the ground that the conditions of
the industry are different and the hazards fewer, simpler, and more
easily avoided where so few are employed together, the legislature,
of course, being the proper judges to determine precisely where the
line should be drawn. Classification on this basis was upheld in
Jeffrey Mfg. Co. v. Blagg, 235 U.
, 235 U. S.
-577, and has been sustained repeatedly by the state
courts. State v. Creamer,
85 Ohio St. 349, 404, 405;
Borgnis v. Falk Co.,
147 Wis. 327, 355; Shade v.
93 Kan. 257, 259; Sayles v. Foley,
R.I. 484, 491, 493.
The discrimination that results from the operation of the
Page 249 U. S. 160
act as between the employees of different employers engaged in
the same kind of work, where one employer becomes a subscriber and
another does not, furnishes no ground of constitutional attack upon
the theory that there is a denial of the equal protection of the
laws. That the acceptance of such a system may be made optional is
too plain for question, and it necessarily follows that differences
arising from the fact that all of those to whom the option is open
do not accept it must be regarded as the natural and inevitable
result of a free choice, and not as a legislative discrimination.
They stand upon the same fundamental basis as other differences in
the conditions of employment arising from the variant exercise by
employers and employees of their right to agree upon the terms of
employment. And see Borgnis v. Falk Co.,
147 Wis. 327,
354; Mathison v. Minneapolis Street Ry. Co.,
In recent years, many of the states have passed elective
workmen's compensation laws not differing essentially from the one
here in question, and they have been sustained by well considered
opinions of the state courts of last resort against attacks based
upon all kinds of constitutional objections, including alleged
denial of the equal protection of the laws, usually, however, from
the standpoint of the employer. Sexton v. Newark District
84 N.J.L. 85; 86 N.J.L. 701; Opinion of
209 Mass. 607; Young v. Duncan,
346; Borgnis v. Falk Co.,
147 Wis. 327; State v.
85 Ohio St. 349; Diebeikis v. Link-Belt Co.,
261 Ill. 454; Crooks v. Tazewell Coal Co.,
263 Ill. 343;
Victor Chemical Works v. Industrial Board,
274 Ill. 11;
Mathison v. Minneapolis Street Ry. Co.,
126 Minn. 286;
Shade v. Cement Co.,
93 Kan. 257; Sayles v.
38 R.I. 484; Greene v. Caldwell,
170 Ky. 571;
Hunter v. Colfax Coal Co.,
175 Ia. 245. The Ohio law was
sustained by this Court against special
Page 249 U. S. 161
attacks in Jeffrey Mfg. Co. v. Blagg, 235 U.
, 235 U. S. 576
and the Iowa law in Hawkins v. Bleakly, 243 U.
, 243 U. S. 213
Stress is laid upon the point that the Texas act, while optional
to the employer, is compulsory as to the employee of a subscribing
employer. Our attention is not called to any express provision
prohibiting a voluntary agreement between a subscribing employer
and one or more of his employees taking them out of the operation
of the act, but probably such an agreement might be held by the
courts of the state to be inconsistent with the general policy of
the act. The supreme court in the case before us did not intimate
that such special agreements would be permissible, and hence it is
fair to assume that all who remain in the employ of a subscribing
employer, with notice that he has provided for payment of
compensation by the association or by an authorized insurance
company, will be bound by the provisions of the act.
But a moment's reflection will show the impossibility of giving
an option both to the employer and to the employee and enabling
them to exercise it in diverse ways. The provisions of the act show
that the legislative purpose is that it shall take effect only upon
acceptance by both employer and employee. The former accepts by
becoming a subscriber; the latter by remaining in the service of
the employer after notice of such acceptance. And we see in this no
ground for holding that there is a denial of the equal protection
of the laws as between employer and employee. They stand in
different relations to the common undertaking, and it was
permissible to recognize this in determining how they should accept
or reject the new system. The employer provides the plant, the
organization, the capital, the credit, and necessarily must control
and manage the operation. In the nature of things, his contribution
has less mobility than that of the employee, who may go from place
to place seeking
Page 249 U. S. 162
satisfactory employment, while the employer's plant and business
are comparatively, even if not absolutely, fixed in position.
Again, in order that the new scheme of compensation should be a
success, the legislature deemed it proper, if not essential, that
the payment of compensation to the injured employees or their
dependents should be rendered secure, and the losses to individual
employers distributed, by a system of compensation insurance, in
which it was deemed important that all employees of a given
employer should be treated alike. Still further, there are reasons
affecting the contentment of the employees and the discipline of
the force, rendering it desirable that all serving under a common
employer should be subject to a single rule as to compensation in
the event of injury or death arising in the course of the
employment. These and other considerations that might be suggested
fully justified the legislative body of the state in determining
that acceptance of the new system should rest upon the initiative
of the employer, and that any particular employee who with notice
of the employer's acceptance dissented from the resulting
arrangement should be required to exercise his option by
withdrawing from the employment. The relation of employer and
employee being a voluntary relation, it was well within the power
of the state to permit employers to accept or reject the new plan
of compensation, each for himself, as a part of the terms of
employment, and, in doing this, there was no denial to employees of
the equal protection of the laws within the meaning of the
This disposes of all contentions made under the equal protection
It is argued further that there is a deprivation of liberty and
property without due process of law in requiring employees,
willingly or unwillingly, to accept the new system where their
employer has adopted it. Of course there is no suggestion of a
deprivation of vested property
Page 249 U. S. 163
in the present case, since the law was passed in April and took
effect in September, while the plaintiff's injuries were received
in the following December, after he had been notified of his
employer's acceptance of the act. What plaintiff has lost,
therefore, is only a part of his liberty to make such contract as
he pleased with a particular employer and to pursue his employment
under the rules of law that previously had obtained fixing
responsibility upon the employer for any personal injuries the
plaintiff might sustain through the negligence of the employer or
his agents. But, as has been held so often, the liberty of the
citizen does not include among its incidents any vested right to
have the rules of law remain unchanged for his benefit. The law of
master and servant, as a body of rules of conduct, is subject to
change by legislation in the public interest. The definition of
negligence, contributory negligence, and assumption of risk, the
effect to be given to them, the rule of respondeat
the imposition of liability without fault, and the
exemption from liability in spite of fault -- all these, as rules
of conduct, are subject to legislative modification. And a plan
imposing upon the employer responsibility for making compensation
for disabling or fatal injuries irrespective of the question of
fault, and requiring the employee to assume all risk of damages
over and above the statutory schedule, when established as a
reasonable substitute for the legal measure of duty and
responsibility previously existing, may be made compulsory upon
employees as well as employers. New York Central R. Co. v.
White, 243 U. S. 188
243 U. S.
-206; Mountain Timber Co. v. Washington,
243 U. S. 219
243 U. S.
All objections to the act on constitutional grounds being found
untenable, the judgment under review is