Earlier this month, Walmart received a perfect 100 score on the Human Right Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. At the same time, the retail giant was settling an LGBT-discrimination lawsuit.
In the settlement, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. agreed to pay $7.5 million after a lawsuit accused the company of discriminating against gay employees by not offering them health insurance benefits for their spouses. According to documents filed in federal court in Boston, Walmart’s settlement covers a few thousand workers affected by the company’s actions from January 2011 to December 2013.
Pride At Work, an LGBT group that organizes support between the LGBTQ community and the organized labor movement, put issued a statement praising the ruling and thanking Walmart for admitting wrongdoing.
“Actions speak louder than words, and until now, Walmart’s actions regarding LGBTQ workers’ and their spouses’ health benefits were discriminatory and hurtful,” read their statement. “We are pleased to hear that Walmart has admitted wrongdoing in Cote et al. v. Walmart Stores, Inc., and that they have agreed to abide by anti-discrimination policies, and to make those who have been discriminated against whole. It is our hope that Walmart accepts how wrong they were so that not one more Walmart worker will have to experience such injustice and bigotry.”
The initial lawsuit was filed in July 2015 by Walmart employee Jacqueline Cote, right after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage around the country. Cote accused the company of failing to provide health insurance to her cancer-stricken wife for years, citing the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the statewide fair-employment law in Massachusetts.
According to the complaint, when Cote’s wife, Diane Smithson, was battling ovarian cancer, she paid $150,000 out of pocket before Walmart extended benefits to same-sex couples at the beginning of 2014. Massachusetts was one of the first states in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage. Cote married Smithson in 2004. Smithson was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012 and eventually lost her own health insurance.
The filing also states that Walmart agreed to continue to “treat same-sex and opposite-sex spouses equally in the provision of health insurance benefits.”
Although Pride at Work members were happy with Walmart’s statement, they offered a warning to the retail giant that they weren’t finished with them yet.
“We congratulate Jacqueline for her bravery, and we hope she inspires other Walmart workers to come forward and speak up about intolerance,” continued their statement. “In addition, we hope that Walmart realizes that this is just a start, and that too many of its hard-working Walmart men and women face poverty-level wages, poor benefits and unfair workplaces. Now, more than ever, it is time for Walmart to wake up and change.”