Wal-Mart to settle U.S. lawsuit over
benefits for same-sex spouses
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[December 03, 2016]
By Daniel Wiessner
(Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc on Friday
said it would pay $7.5 million to settle a U.S. lawsuit claiming it
discriminated against gay employees nationwide by denying health
benefits to their spouses.
Wal-Mart and lawyers for Jacqueline Cote, the worker who filed the 2015
lawsuit in federal court in Boston, said in a court filing that the
money may be split among more than 1,000 people who were denied spousal
benefits between 2011 and 2014, when Wal-Mart changed its policy.
The settlement must be approved by a federal judge.
Sally Welborn, a senior vice president at Bentonville, Arkansas-based
Wal-Mart, said in a statement that diversity and inclusion were among
the company's core values.
"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," she said.
Wal-Mart, the largest private U.S. employer, began offering health
insurance benefits to same-sex spouses in 2014, a year after the U.S.
Supreme Court struck down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage
Act that denied benefits to married gay couples.
Cote, who has worked at Wal-Mart stores in Maine and Massachusetts since
1999, said in the lawsuit that her wife, Diana Smithson, developed
cancer in 2012 and Wal-Mart's denial of insurance coverage led to more
than $150,000 in medical debt. Smithson died in March.
Cote in a statement on Friday said she was pleased with the settlement.
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Shopping carts are seen outside a new Wal-Mart Express store in
Chicago July 26, 2011. REUTERS/John Gress/Files
"It's a relief to bring this chapter of my life to a close," she said.
Federal employment discrimination laws do not explicitly provide
protections for gay workers. But LGBT groups and the Obama
administration have aggressively pushed the argument that bias against
gay people is a form of sex discrimination, and three federal appeals
courts are currently considering that claim.
The case is Jacqueline Cote v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc, U.S. District Court
for the District of Massachusetts, No. 15-cv-12945.
(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York, Editing by Alexia
Garamfalvi and Lisa Shumaker)
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