- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A gay rights group has filed a federal class-action lawsuit against Walmart, saying it discriminated against same-sex married couples by denying them health insurance benefits.

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs filed their complaint Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

GLAD said this is the first class-action filed on behalf of gay workers since the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in June.

Brian Nick, director of national media relations for Walmart, said “Walmart expanded its benefits starting in January 2014 and currently covers same sex spouses and domestic partners.”

“We have not yet seen the details of the lawsuit, and out of respect for Ms. Cote we are not going to comment other than to say our benefits coverage previous to the 2014 update was consistent with the law,” Mr. Nick said Tuesday.

The complaint says Walmart violated the federal Civil Rights Act by discriminating against Jacqueline Cote and others based on their sex.

Ms. Cote married Diana Smithson in 2004, when same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts. But Walmart at that time did not permit same-sex couples to claim each other for spousal benefits.

Ms. Cote said after she was denied spousal insurance, her wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and the couple ran up at least $150,000 in uninsured medical expenses.

Walmart changed its health insurance policy to cover same-sex spouses on Jan. 1, 2014.

The GLAD lawsuit comes after the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) issued a final determination in January 2014 that said Walmart’s treatment of Ms. Cote was unlawful sex discrimination. On May 29, EEOC issued a “right to sue” letter, GLAD said.

The federal lawsuit will ask the court to certify a class of people who are or were working at Walmart prior to Jan. 1, 2014, who were legally married to someone of the same sex, were eligible for spousal health benefits, and were denied those benefits.


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