Walmart, the largest retailer in the United States, is being sued in federal court for?denying health insurance benefits to the spouses of gay employees, which the suit claims violated gender discrimination laws.
The lawsuit, which has been filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, is also seeking to gain nationwide class-action status.
The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of a former employee,?Jackie Cote, an office manager who has worked at Walmart stores in Maine and Massachusetts since 1999. Her wife, Diana Smithson, developed cancer in 2012 and treatment led to $150,000 in medical debt, which the suit alleges hampered Smithson’s recovery.
Cote and Smithson were married in 2004 in the state of?Massachusetts. Earlier that same year, ?a court ruling made the Bay State the first in the country to allow same-sex marriages.
Wal-Mart, however, did not began offering health insurance benefits to same-sex spouses until 2014, shortly after the Supreme Court invalidated a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denied federal benefits to married gay couples.
Cote’s lawsuit calls the health insurance policies issued by Walmart prior to 2014 a form of gender discrimination because the wife of a male employee would receive health insurance, and even after the 2014 change, Wal-Mart workers still faced the uncertainty of losing spousal coverage.
A portion of the lawsuit states:
“Benefits provided by Wal-Mart as a matter of grace…are not secure and could potentially be withdrawn just when large health care costs are incurred.”
A spokesman for Walmart, the largest employer in the country, declined to comment other than to say its benefits coverage before the 2014 change was legal.
Cote is being represented by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. The civil rights group is seeking to certify a nationwide class of current and former gay Walmart employees who were legally married before 2014, when the company began covering same-sex spouses.