Walmart has agreed to settle a lawsuit
claiming that the retail giant illegally denied health insurance
benefits to the spouses of its employees who are gay.
Plaintiff Jacqueline Cote was
represented by the LGBT law group GLAD, which said Friday that
Walmart had agreed to pay $7.5 million to cover the health-related
expenses of more than 1,000 current and former Walmart employees who
were denied coverage.
Cote, who started working at the
company's Swansea, Massachusetts store in 1999, married her wife
Diana “Dee” Smithson in 2004. When Cote applied for health
insurance benefits for Smithson, Walmart refused, saying that it did
not provide such benefits to the spouses of gay employees.
Walmart reversed its policy in January
2014 and now provides equal health benefits to all employees
regardless of sexual orientation.
Cote's lawyers argued that denying such
benefits to gay employees violated Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights
Act of 1964.
Cote, who left Walmart earlier this
year, said that the couple struggled to pay for a separate health
insurance policy. A short time after Smithson's policy was canceled
in 2012, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which resulted in
thousands of dollars in medical bills.
“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. It's a relief to bring this chapter of my
life to a close,” Cote
said in a statement.