Wal-Mart Faces Court Action for Denying Health Insurance to Gay Workers Wife
An employee of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. sued the retailer on Tuesday, saying its prior policy of denying health insurance to spouses of gay employees is a violation of gender discrimination laws.
The lawsuit which was filed in US District Court in Boston, is seeking nationwide class-action status.
Wal-Mart, which is the largest private employer in America began issuing health insurance benefits to same-sex spouses last year, after the US Supreme Court in 2013 ripped part of the Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to gay couples. However, despite that change, the lawsuit points out that Wal-Mart employees still live with the uncertainty of losing spousal coverage.
Part of the lawsuit says, ‘’Benefits offered by the company as a matter of grace… do not guarantee security and could potentially be withdrawn just when the huge healthcare costs are incurred.’’
According to Jackie Cote, who has been an employee of Wal-Mart Stores in Maine and Massachusetts since 1999, her wife, Diana Smithson, was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and the refusal to provide health insurance cover has led to more than $150,000 in medical arrears.
Cote and Smithson got married in 2004 in Massachusetts just a few days after a court ruling that made the state to become the first one in America to legalize gay marriage.
In the lawsuit, Cote says that the company repeatedly denied requests to add her wife to her insurance policy, leaving her with the only choice of putting the wife under hospice care.
Last year, Cote filed a complaint with the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a body for filing employment discrimination lawsuits. The Commission said in January that Wal-Mart had acted in violation of gender discrimination laws by refusing to award health insurance benefits to Smithson.
Wal-Mart on its part argued before the commission that since federal anti-discrimination laws did not apply to gay employees, it was under no obligation to provide benefits to their spouses.