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Walmart has agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought by thousands of employees claiming the retail behemoth denied health insurance benefits to same-sex spouses of employees. While the lawsuit was filed by one former employee, Jacqueline A. Cote, the settlement will apply to thousands of employees who weren't able to obtain health insurance coverage for their same-sex spouses from 2011 to 2013.
Under the terms of the settlement, which still must be approved by the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, Walmart admits no wrongdoing, and contends it is paying plaintiffs "in the interest of resolving this dispute between the parties without the significant expense, delay and inconvenience of further litigation."
Prior to 2014, Walmart's insurance policy limited eligibility to spouses of the opposite sex. And although the megastore chain updated the policy to include same-sex spouses, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found the change was too little, too late and that Walmart discriminated against Cote on the basis of her sex.
Cote filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming its insurance practices violated the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act, and the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Law. The lawsuit became a class action, also covering other employees married to same-sex spouses. The exact number of current and former Walmart employees eligible for the settlement is not known at this time, but the company estimates it will be "no more than a few thousand."
Both sides seemed pleased to have the case resolved. "It's a relief to bring this chapter of my life to a close," Cote said. "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."
Sally Welborn, senior vice president of global benefits for Walmart, was similarly happy to have the case resolved: "Respect for the individual, diversity and inclusion are among the core values that made Walmart into the company that it is today. 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."