The LGBT legal group GLAD has filed a
class action lawsuit against Walmart, charging the retail giant with
discriminating against gay workers.
The lawsuit, Jacqueline
Cote, et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.,
alleges that Walmart violated Title VII of the federal Civil Rights
Act by discriminating against Jacqueline Cote, a Walmart employee,
based on her sex.
Walmart extended benefits to married
gay couples in January 2014, just months after the Supreme Court
struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA),
which defined marriage as a heterosexual union.
Cote, who works in Walmart's Swansea,
Massachusetts store, was denied spousal health insurance for her wife
Diana “Dee” Smithson, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in
The women, who have been together for
nearly 23 years, married in May 2004 as soon as it was legally
possible in Massachusetts, the first state to legalize such unions.
For four years starting in 2008, Cote
attempted to add Smithson to her health insurance during Walmart's
open enrollment periods but was denied.
By the time Walmart altered its policy
in 2014, the couple had racked up a minimum of $150,000 in uninsured
“We want to send a message to
companies big and small, that it is illegal to deny benefits to the
same-sex spouses of their employees, if they provide the same
benefits to employees with opposite-sex spouses,” GLAD spokeswoman
Carisa Cunningham told Bloomberg.
Thomas Wassel, a corporate lawyer with
Cullen and Dykman LLP who is not involved in the case, said that the
case is on solid ground.
“The plaintiffs have a strong
argument,” said Wassel. “A corporation does have a right to
extend benefits as it sees fit, but can't do so in violation of the
Brian Nick, a spokesman for Walmart,
said in an email: “Our benefits coverage previous to the 2014
update was consistent with the law.”