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Walmart Sued for Denying Health Insurance to Same-sex Couple

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 21, 2015 11:31 AM

The Supreme Court may have extended the right to marry to same-sex couples this year, but the fight for equality, benefits, and rights is not over.

Just a month after the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges Walmart is defending itself against a lawsuit that claims gender discrimination when it refused to extend health insurance to same-sex spouses of employees.

Cote v. Walmart Stores Inc.

Jackie Cote worked at Walmart stores since 1999. In 2004, when Massachusetts became the first state to allow same sex marriage, Cote married her wife Diana Smithson, who also worked for Walmart. Smithson stopped working for Walmart in 2008 and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012. Since Smithson stopped working for Walmart, Cote tried to enroll her wife on her health insurance.

Walmart repeatedly denied Cote's request until January 1, 2014, when the company extended health insurance to same-sex spouses of employees after the Supreme Court's 2013 decision in the case of U.S. v. Windsor. However, by 2014, Walmart's previous denial already cost Cote and Smithson $150,000 in medical debt.

So, Cote, represented by the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), recently filed a federal discrimination complaint against Walmart claiming that its prior policy constituted gender discrimination in violation of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Massachusetts' fair employment law.

Gender Discrimination

Walmart claims it denied Cote's claim because federal anti-discrimination law did not require extending benefits to spouses of gay employees. Walmart is correct in its assertions because federal law does not prohibit discrimination against gay employees.

Instead, Cote is claiming gender discrimination. She argues that had she been a male employee asking for benefits for his wife, Walmart would have approved it. Cote contends that she was denied benefits for her wife because she was a female employee.

While Smithson is now covered by Walmart's health insurance since January, 2014, Cote is demanding about $100,000 to cover the medical debt the couple accrued before Walmart changed its policy and an unspecified amount for emotional stress.

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