Wal-Mart Settles Lawsuit Over Same-sex Spouses’ Health Care Benefit

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Wal-Mart settles over same-sex spouses’ health care benefit and avoids LGBT employee discrimination suit.

By: Chris Gilmore/TRT Reporter—

BOSTON— Walmart settled a suit last week that alleged the company had discriminated against LGBT employees for its lack of health insurance benefits to same-sex couples, reported The New York Times.

Through the settlement, Walmart will set aside $7.5 million, reported the Times, “mostly to compensate employees affected by the denial of spousal benefits during the three years before Jan. 1, 2014, when the company changed its policy. More than 1,000 people may be eligible.”

Former Walmart associate Jacqueline Cote, from Massachusetts, filed the lawsuit after the retail giant refused to give her spouse health benefits.  Cote’s sued Walmart claiming that it violated the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act and the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Law, reported USA Today.

“I’m pleased that Walmart was willing to resolve this issue for me and other associates who are married to someone of the same sex,” said Cote.

The proposed settlement would pay for claims by no more than a few thousand current and former Walmart associates in the United States and Puerto Rico that were unable to obtain health insurance coverage for their same-sex spouses from Walmart from Jan. 1, 2011 to Dec. 31, 2013, as well as the costs of administering the settlement and legal fees and expenses.

In 2014, Walmart voluntarily made the same health insurance benefits available to same-sex spouses of its associates that it offered to opposite-sex spouses. As part of the proposed settlement, Walmart commits to continuing to do so in the future.

“We’re happy both sides could come together to reach a resolution. Respect for the individual, diversity and inclusion are among the core values that made Walmart into the company that it is today,” said Sally Welborn, Senior Vice President, Global Benefits for Walmart. “We will continue to not distinguish between same and opposite sex spouses when it comes to the benefits we offer under our health insurance plan.”

“This is an important settlement for LGBTQ workers,” said Janson Wu, GLAD’s Executive Director, through the organization’s press release.

Walmart employs nearly 1.5 million associates in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

Cote was represented by GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), Outten & Golden LLP, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs (WLC), and Arnold & Porter LLP.

“It’s a relief to bring this chapter of my life to a close,” said Cote.

The case is known as Jacqueline Cote v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 15-cv-12945-WGY (D. Mass.) can be read at: https://goo.gl/kKowxn.

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