Wal-Mart settles $7.5M lawsuit for denying health benefits to same-sex spouses
- Wal-Mart has settled a lawsuit accusing the company of discriminating against same-sex spouses by denying them healthcare coverage, reports the New York Times. The suit’s lead plaintiff was Jacqueline Cote, who charged Walmart with discriminating against her because she married a woman. The retail giant also agreed to set aside $7.5 million to pay other same-sex spouses who were denied benefits three years before its policy changed on Jan. 1, 2014.
- The settlement addresses the legal question of whether discrimination against gays and lesbians is sex discrimination. If so, gays and lesbians would have a better chance of winning bias cases in court. For example, the New York Times said that a gay man was more likely to win such a case if he claimed he was denied a promotion because he wasn’t masculine enough, instead of being denied for being gay.
- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and some federal courts have ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation is, in fact, sex discrimination, says the New York Times. The report also said a Trump administration could roll back the agency’s interpretation of the law with the appointment of a new EEOC chief.
Companies that don’t offer healthcare coverage to same-sex spouses might want to add up the legal expenses they could owe if they’re brought up on discrimination charges and lose. More than 1,100 people could be eligible for Wal-Mart’s settlement payout.
At present, the EEOC and several federal courts view bias against gays and lesbians as sex discrimination, and employers should be aware that their chances of winning lawsuits against claims of sexual orientation bias are slim when sex discrimination is at the base of the charge.
Ms. Cote not only claimed that Wal-Mart was biased against her because she married a woman, but that it also discriminated against her because of a stereotype that she should have married a man. The latter claim is based on sex discrimination, which the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits.