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America’s Largest Retailer Accused of Denying Health Benefits to Gay Employees



WalMart target of class-action complaint from employees in several states

According to a proposed complaint, WalMart violated the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 by refusing to offer health insurance to the partner of a lesbian employee. That employee, Jacqueline Cote, claims that WalMart would not extend health coverage to her wife until after the couple racked up more than $150,000 in medical bills.

WalMart began offering health insurance benefits to LGBT employees in January 2014, but refused to assist Cote and her partner in addressing their already substantial medical debts.

Cote and her wife, Diana Smithson, married in 2004 in Massachusetts. In 2012, Smithson was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After losing her own health coverage, Smithson quickly accumulated massive medical debt.

Sex discrimination versus sexual orientation discrimination

Cote has taken the stance that WalMart has discriminated against her because of her sex, rather than her sexual orientation. Cote claims that WalMart would have offered her partner insurance coverage if she had been a man.

This assertion provides a much better chance of success, as workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation is not prohibited by federal law. Discrimination based on gender, however, is illegal under employment law.

Cote’s assertions have seen support

Prior to proposing her charges against WalMart, Cote took her case before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC determined that WalMart’s refusal to extend health benefits to Cote’s wife did constitute unlawful sex discrimination.

While the EEOC’s determination may have little influence on the proposed charged filed by Cote, the ruling does lend credence to her argument.

Much rides on the ultimate decision

A great deal rides on the final ruling in this case. Should Cote emerge victorious, she may be entitled to monetary compensation for her damages and a punitive award for WalMart’s discriminatory actions.

If WalMart wins the day, the precedence may impact future decisions on the matter. Other employees who feel slighted my forgo taking legal action when they otherwise would have acted.

Your situation may have parallels

With the recent changes in same-sex marriage and benefits laws, it has become more difficult to translate guidelines to specific situations. If you feel that you have been discriminated against, or have been denied benefits or employment based on your gender or sexual orientation, it may be helpful to discuss your case with a New York employment lawyer.

At Hepworth, Gershbaum & Roth, our New York employment law attorneys provide comprehensive and customized legal advice to LGBT clients facing difficult wage and benefit issues. Our knowledge of state and federal employment laws, and their interplay with recent same-sex marriage resolutions, allows us to help you understand how guidelines apply to your unique situation.

To discuss your case during a free consultation with one of our New York employment law attorneys, contact us online or call 212-545-1199 today.





Contact an employment law attorney in New York today for a free initial consultation and determine whether you have a case. For a free initial consultation, you can contact us online or by phone.

CALL US TODAY! 212-545-1199