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Lesbian Walmart employee settles health benefit suit

Lesbian Walmart employee settles health benefit suit

In 2014, Walmart employee Jacqueline Cote sued for health benefits for her spouse

A little over two years ago, Walmart employee Jacqueline Cote sued the company because it rejected an application for spousal benefits for her wife. Last week, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders and Wal-Mart announced a $7.5 (€7.1) million settlement that covers the denied claims the company’s LGBTI employees made for their spouses.

Between 2006 and 2012, Cote attempted to add her wife, Diana Smithson, to her health insurance. However, when Cote entered her spouse’s gender as ‘female,’ the company’s online system would not proceed with the application.

She called headquarters to investigate, and was told  Walmart did not offer health insurance coverage to LGBTI couples. That policy officially changed in early 2014 but, by then, the couple had approximately $100,000 (94,000) in medical bills due to Smithson’s ovarian cancer.

The agreement, which must be approved by a judge, will cover health insurance claims made by married LGBTI employees between 2011 January and 2013 December. Fees and costs are  part of the resolution.

‘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,’ Cote said in a statement. ‘It’s a relief to bring this chapter of my life to a close.”

Sally Welborn, senior vice president of global benefits for Wal-Mart, said the company will no longer ‘distinguish between same and opposite sex spouses when it comes to the benefits we offer under our health insurance plan.’

Wal-Mart is the largest retailer in the world, the biggest private employer in the world with over two million employees, and the largest private employer in the US.

The case is officially known as Jacqueline Cote v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and was filed in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts.