Wal-Mart's $7.5 Million Settlement Approved in Same-Sex Health Benefits Case

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

May 17, 2017

A federal court in Massachusetts has approved a $7.5 million settlement in a case that accused Wal-Mart of discriminating against employees by denying health benefits to their same-sex spouses. The settlement involves the claims of current and former Wal-Mart employees in the US and Puerto Rico who said they were unable to obtain the benefits. In approving the agreement, US District Judge William G. Young called it, "Fair, reasonable, and in the public interest."

A Massachusetts Wal-Mart associate, Jacqueline Cote, had filed the lawsuit after she said the company repeatedly denied medical insurance coverage for her wife, who later died of ovarian cancer. According to court documents, when Cote entered her spouse's gender as 'female,' the company's online system would stop her from proceeding.

The employees claimed that even after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, Wal-Mart continued its policy of denying health benefits to same-sex spouses. While Wal-Mart eventually did change its policy in 2014, Cote and other co-workers said that was only after their families had incurred significant medical debts.

As part of the agreement, Wal-Mart pledged it will continue not to distinguish between same-sex and opposite-sex couples when it comes to the benefits the company offers under its health insurance plan. Wal-Mart employs nearly 1.5 million associates in the US and Puerto Rico.

The settlement will cover the claims of Wal-Mart associates who were unable to obtain health insurance coverage for their same-sex spouses between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2013. It also covers the costs of their legal fees and expenses.