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Wal-Mart Faces First Class Action for Equal Employment Benefits
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In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriages, a suit has been filed against Wal-Mart based upon its former refusal to provide health insurance benefits to same-sex couples.

Summary: In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriages, a suit has been filed against Wal-Mart based upon its former refusal to provide health insurance benefits to same-sex couples.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will have to deal with the first class action suit that demands equal employment benefits for married same-sex couples since their marriages were legalized by the United States Supreme Court in June, the National Law Journal reports.


However, it is not clear whether Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a Los Angeles law firm associated with marriage equality litigation, will help Wal-Mart fight the claims, The firm was also Wal-Mart’s appellate partner in landmark workplace litigation.

Gibson Dunn has been Wal-Mart’s leading counsel for years. For example, the firm represented the chain in a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court win in which a class action was decertified because the court found a lack of sufficient common questions of law or fact.

President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage.

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Theodore Olson, a partner with the firm, was co-counsel for the plaintiffs in Bostic v. Schaefer, which declared Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional.



In Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court held that states must provide marriages licenses to same sex couples and that states must recognize same-sex marriages that were performed in other states. Gibson Dunn filed a brief on behalf of Kristen Perry, who challenged California’s prohibition against gay marriage, in that case. On Tuesday, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs filed a suit in Boston federal court, arguing that Wal-Mart violated Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act because it discriminated against Jacqueline Cote, a Wal-Mart employee, because of her sex.

Additionally, the suit claims that Wal-Mart violated the Equal Pay Act and the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Law.

Wal-Mart spokesman Brian Nick said that there was not an attorney on the case at this time.

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Cote argues that she was denied health insurance for her wife, Diana “Dee” Smithson, when she applied for benefits during the open enrollment periods from 2008 to 2012.

Read about the Supreme Court ruling here.

Wal-Mart changed its policy in January 2014, but Cote claims that the couple had to shell out over $150,000 in medical expenses for Smithson’s ovarian cancer treatments. Since then, the amount has amassed to more than $175,000. According to Fortune, Smithson is now under hospice care.

Specifically, the lawsuit seeks an injunction against Wal-Mart, prohibiting it from denying spousal health insurance to the plaintiffs and others in similar situations. The suit also seeks damages and attorney fees and costs.

Allison Wright, a GLAD staff attorney, said, “This case is a perfect example of how [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people] are financially harmed by discriminatory policies.”

The Boston Globe added that Cote commented, “It’s definitely, without question in my mind, the right thing to do for me and my wife and for other people who have suffered in a similar fashion.”

Wal-Mart presently covers same-sex spouses and domestic partners for health insurance.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources was sued for sexual discrimination.

Nick said, “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.”

Cote and Smithson were married in 2004, right after same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts.

In September of 2014, GLAD filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission on behalf of Cote. The EEOC found that the treatment of Cote was unlawful, and issued a right-to-sue letter in May.

Source: National Law Journal

Photo credit:, USA Today (Olson)




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