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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 9, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 50
Walmart settles suit over benefits for same-sex spouses
Section One
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Walmart settles suit over benefits for same-sex spouses

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Walmart has settled a class-action lawsuit challenging the retail giant's refusal to grant insurance benefits to same-sex spouses prior to 2014.

In court papers filed on December 2, former Walmart employee Jacqueline Cote and her lawyers asked a US District Court in Massachusetts to grant preliminary approval of the settlement.

The $7.5 million proposed settlement would pay for claims by Walmart employees in the United States and Puerto Rico that they were unable to obtain health insurance coverage for their same-sex spouses between January 1, 2011, and December 31, 2013, plus administrative costs, legal fees, and expenses.

In 2014, Walmart offered the same health insurance benefits to its employees' same-sex spouses as it offered to opposite-sex spouses. As part of the proposed settlement, Walmart commits to continuing to do so in the future.

The proposed settlement class is expected to include thousands of current and former Walmart associates. Walmart employs nearly 1.5 million associates in the US and Puerto Rico.

'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,' lead plaintiff Jacqueline Cote said in a statement. 'It's a relief to bring this chapter of my life to a close.'

Cote was represented by GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (WLC), and two private law firms.

Janson Wu, GLAD's executive director, said the action was 'an important settlement for LGBTQ workers.'

'We believe the proposed settlement is fair and reasonable and are pleased we could announce it today,' WLC Executive Director Jonathan Smith added. 'We are pleased to have worked with our colleagues at GLAD, Outten & Golden, and Arnold & Porter to achieve this settlement.'

Sally Welborn, Senior Vice President of Global Benefits for Walmart, said the company was 'happy both sides could come together to reach a resolution.'

'Respect for the individual, diversity, and inclusion are among the core values that made Walmart into the company that it is today,' she added. '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.'

Making Change at Walmart, the national campaign to make Walmart a more responsible employer, along with Pride at Work and UFCW OUTreach, two LGBT labor organizations, said Walmart should be judged by its future actions.

'Actions speak louder than words, and until now, Walmart's actions regarding LGBTQ workers' and their spouses' health benefits were discriminatory and hurtful,' the groups said in a joint statement.

'We are pleased to hear that Walmart has admitted wrongdoing in Cote et al. v. Walmart Stores, Inc., and that they have agreed to abide by anti-discrimination policies, and to make those who have been discriminated against whole. It is our hope that Walmart accepts how wrong they were so that not one more Walmart worker will have to experience such injustice and bigotry.

'We congratulate Jacqueline for her bravery, and we hope she inspires other Walmart workers to come forward and speak up about intolerance. In addition, we hope that Walmart realizes that this is just a start, and that too many of its hard-working Walmart men and women face poverty-level wages, poor benefits, and unfair workplaces. Now, more than ever, it is time for Walmart to wake up and change.'

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