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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 12, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 07
Lawyers send out 1,200 notices in suit against Walmart

Retail giant charged with denying insurance to same-sex spouses
Section One
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Lawyers send out 1,200 notices in suit against Walmart

Retail giant charged with denying insurance to same-sex spouses

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Lawyers handling a class action lawsuit against retail giant Walmart mailed out 1,200 notices to current and former Walmart employees on February 9. The court-approved notices ask people who were denied health insurance for their same-sex spouses to contact Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), which is helping to represent plaintiffs in the case.

The mass mailing is the next step in Cote et al. v. Walmart Stores Inc., scheduled for trial in November. The court will decide this fall whether to certify a class action.

'It is very important for anyone who receives the notice or who was affected by Walmart's prior policy to contact lawyers for the proposed class,' said Peter Romer-Friedman of the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, also representing plaintiffs in the case.

'Our legal team is ready to help all of the workers whose rights are at stake in this proposed class action lawsuit.'

The lawsuit originated in a complaint by Jacqueline Cote, a longtime Walmart associate. Cote filed suit in July 2015, charging that Walmart's refusal to provide health insurance to her spouse, Dee Smithson, prior to 2014 violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Because of Walmart's policy, Cote and Smithson racked up more than $150,000 in uninsured medical expenses when Smithson was diagnosed and treated for ovarian cancer in 2012 and 2013.

'We now know that my wife Dee and I were not the only Walmart couples who were denied health care benefits prior to 2014,' Cote said in a statement. 'I hope that all of my fellow Walmart associates will contact our legal team so that we can get justice for every single person who was affected.'

The notices being sent to current and former Walmart employees will inform them that lawyers for Cote and the 'proposed class' are investigating claims against their employer and would like to speak with them.

The nearly individuals who are receiving the notices all enrolled a same-sex spouse in Walmart's health plan after Wal-Mart changed its policy on January 1, 2014, and began providing health insurance to same-sex spouses.

Many of these individuals worked for the company prior to January 1, 2014, during the period when Walmart denied insurance to same-sex spouses, and they may have claims against Walmart similar to Cote's.

The notices also inform the recipients that Walmart employees can authorize Walmart to provide a range of contact, personnel, and health plan information to lawyers for Cote.

Former employees who left Walmart prior to the policy change in 2014, and who were denied benefits for their same-sex spouses in prior years, were not included in the mailing but are part of the class, and lawyers would like to speak with them as well, GLAD said.

GLAD also emphasized that federal legislation is needed to protect LGBT employees.

'The large number of gay and lesbian couples who were impacted by Walmart's prior policy highlights the need for strong federal anti-discrimination protections,' said GLAD staff attorney Allison Wright.

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