After nine months of legal battles, Walmart has finally settled a lawsuit which claimed that their benefits package discriminated against same-sex couples. Filed by Jacqueline Cote in 2015, the suit alleged that Walmart denied medical insurance for the same-sex partners of their employees.
Cote and her partner were married in 2004. Her partner battled cancer and racked up over $150,000 worth of medical bills at the time. When Walmart finally did begin offering benefits for same-sex partners in 2014, they repeatedly denied Cote's insurance.
Now, according to the New York Times, the company has "set aside $7.5 million, 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."
“We’re happy both sides could come together to reach a resolution,” Sally Welborn, a Walmart senior vice president, said in a statement. “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.”
Peter Romer-Friedman, one of Ms. Cote’s lawyers, added the following in a statement: “We are glad that as part of the settlement Walmart will continue to provide the same health insurance benefits regardless of the gender of the associate’s spouse."
Experts on the subject have indicated that the settlement is another data point in the argument that same-sex partnerships are, at least legally, starting to get treated with the same seriousness as heterosexual partnerships. “The trend lines are very positive,” said P. David Lopez, general counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “The courts have really drilled down and started to re-examine whether prior precedent makes sense.” (This, of course, all seems rather precarious under an impending Donald Trump presidenecy.)
However, a joint statement issued by Pride at Work, the United Food and Commercial Worker’s Union’s UFCW OUTReach group and the organizers of the Making Change at Walmart national campaign warned the public about the retail mega-giant, given their long list of questionable human rights practices in the past:
"Actions speak louder than words, and until now, Walmart’s actions regarding LGBTQ workers’ and their spouses’ health benefits were discriminatory and hurtful. We are pleased to hear that Walmart has admitted wrongdoing in Cote et al. v. Walmart Stores, Inc., and that they have agreed to abide by anti-discrimination policies, and to make those who have been discriminated against whole. It is our hope that Walmart accepts how wrong they were so that not one more Walmart worker will have to experience such injustice and bigotry.
"We congratulate Jacqueline for her bravery, and we hope she inspires other Walmart workers to come forward and speak up about intolerance. In addition, we hope that Walmart realizes that this is just a start, and that too many of its hard-working Walmart men and women face poverty-level wages, poor benefits and unfair workplaces. Now, more than ever, it is time for Walmart to wake up and change.”
The message these groups are sending is clear: great job in this situation, but we're watching you.
[Photo: Getty Images]