Wal-Mart agree settlement on same sex health benefits

Wal-Mart agree US$7.5 million settlement with former employees that alleged discrimination

Wal-Mart agree settlement on same sex health benefits
The world’s biggest retailer, Wal-Mart, has agreed a settlement of US$7.5 million in a lawsuit filed by their employees accusing the company of discriminating against gay workers by failing to offer health insurance benefits to their spouses.

Following the decision, Sally Welborn, Wal-Mart’s senior vice president of Global Benefits expressed the company’s sentiments. “We’re happy both sides could come together to reach a resolution,” she said. “Respect for the individual, diversity and inclusion are among the core values that made Wal-Mart into the company that it is today.”

Wal-Mart is the globe’s largest private employer and company, measured by revenue. In 2015 it amassed $482 billion in profits, although the rise in online retailers driven by Amazon is creating pressure on its bottom line. 

In the settlement, thousands of current and former workers were involved, working for the company between January 2011 and December 2013.

The time period is important, as the suit was filed in July 2015, soon after the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Wal-Mart employee Jacqueline Cote argued the company failed to provide health insurance to her wife for years in violation of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a Massachusetts fair-employment law.

Wal-Mart extended benefits to same-sex couples in January 2014, just two months after the Supreme Court overturned a federal law defining marriage as only a heterosexual union, but by then Cote’s wife Diana Smithson had already had more than $150,000 in expenses battling ovarian cancer.

“I’m pleased that Wal-Mart was willing to resolve this issue for me and other associates who are married to someone of the same sex,” Cote said in the joint statement with the retailer. “It’s a relief to bring this chapter of my life to a close.”

As part of the settlement, Wal-Mart agreed to continue to “treat same-sex and opposite-sex spouses equally in the provision of health insurance benefits” according to the filing. The deal requires court approval.

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