Walmart Agrees to Pay $7.5 Million Settlement in Same-Sex Benefits Case

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Walmart has agreed to pay $7.5 million in order to settle a lawsuit that claims the company discriminated against thousands of gay employees.

The lawsuit alleged that Walmart denied spousal health insurance benefits to same-sex employees between 2011 and 2013. The company said the settlement will benefit “no more than a few thousand current and former Walmart associates.”

Jacqueline A. Cote, who has worked for the retail giant since 1999 in Maine and Massachusetts, filed the lawsuit last year after she was repeatedly denied coverage for her  ailing wife. In 2012, Cote’s wife, Diana Smithson, was diagnosed with cancer. Since Walmart denied her health insurance benefits, the couple racked up more than $150,000 in debt. Smithson passed away in March.

The lawsuit alleged that Walmart violated the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act, and the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Law.

As per the settlement, Walmart denies all allegations brought forth in the lawsuit, but chose to settle, “in the interest of resolving this dispute between the parties without the significant expense, delay and inconvenience of further litigation.”

Cote, who was pleased by the lawsuit’s outcome, said in a statement, “It’s a relief to bring this chapter of my life to a close.”

Walmart began offering health benefits for same-sex couples in 2014 after the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act; prior to that Walmart only offered benefits to employees’ domestic partners in states where it was required to do so by law.

In an effort to increase inclusion, the company recently announced that it will be extending its health insurance to cover transgender employees this year. On Monday, the company received a perfect 100 score from Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, the group’s annual ranking of companies’ workplace protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees.

According to Reuters, Sally Welborn, a senior vice president at the 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.

Alexis Evans
Alexis Evans is an Assistant Editor at Law Street and a Buckeye State native. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and a minor in Business from Ohio University. Contact Alexis at



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