1,200 Workers to Receive Notice of Lawsuit Challenging Walmart’s Denial of Health Insurance to Same-Sex Spouses

The Washington Post (February 18, 2016)
Bloomberg Businessweek (February 17, 2016) 

Today, a court-approved notice is being mailed to nearly 1,200 current and former Walmart employees who may have been denied the ability to put their same-sex spouses on their employee health plan. The notice is the next step in a class action lawsuit arising from the case of Jacqueline Cote, a longtime Walmart associate. Cote filed suit in July 2015, alleging that Walmart’s refusal to provide health insurance to her spouse prior to 2014 violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Cote et al. v. Walmart Stores, Inc. (D. Mass.), is currently scheduled for trial in November 2016. The Court will determine whether to certify a class by the summer or fall of 2016.

“It is very important for anyone who receives the notice or who was affected by Walmart’s prior policy to contact lawyers for the proposed class,” said Peter Romer-Friedman of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “Our legal team is ready to help all of the workers whose rights are at stake in this proposed class action lawsuit.”

The notice, as well as other documents in the case, can be read here. The nearly 1,200 individuals who are receiving the court-approved notice all enrolled a same-sex spouse in Walmart’s health plan after Wal-Mart changed its policy on January 1, 2014 to provide health insurance to same-sex spouses. Many of these individuals worked prior to January 1, 2014, during the period when Walmart denied insurance to same-sex spouses. Lawyers for Ms. Cote and the proposed class would like to hear from the nearly 1,200 individuals who received the notice, as well as any other former Walmart employees who had a same-sex spouse (including those who left Walmart before 2014).

“The large number of gay and lesbian couples who were impacted by Walmart’s prior policy highlights the need for strong federal anti-discrimination protections,” said Allison Wright, Staff Attorney at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders.

“We now know that my wife Dee and I were not the only Walmart couples who were denied health care benefits prior to 2014,” said Jackie Cote. “I hope that all of my fellow Walmart associates will contact our legal team so that we can get justice for every single person who was affected.” Because of Walmart’s prior policy, Cote and Smithson racked up more than $150,000 in uninsured medical expenses when Smithson was diagnosed and treated for ovarian cancer in 2012 and 2013.

The Notice being sent to nearly 1,200 current and former Walmart employees will inform them that lawyers for Cote and the Proposed class are investigating their claims and would like to speak with them, and that the Walmart employees can authorize Walmart to provide a range of contact, personnel, and health plan information to lawyers for Cote and the Proposed class.

Former employees who left Walmart prior to the policy change in 2014, but who were denied benefits for their spouses of the same sex in prior years, are not included in this mailing but are part of the class and are encouraged to call plaintiffs’ counsel as well. Lawyers for Cote and the proposed class hope to speak with as many current and former Walmart employees as possible to determine who are members of the proposed class and what damages they suffered.

Potential class members are asked to visit www.glad.org/walmart, or get in touch with one of the following attorneys:

Allison Wright; awright@glad.org; (617) 426-1350

Peter Romer-Friedman; prf@washlaw.org; (202) 644-7080

Juno Turner; jturner@outtengolden.com; (212) 245-1000

Potential class members are encouraged to complete and return to the notice administrator the HIPAA authorization form that authorizes Walmart to provide contact, personnel, and health plan information to lawyers for Cote and the proposed class.

In addition to GLAD and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, Jacqueline Cote is represented by Outten & Golden LLP and Arnold and Porter LLP.

Contact: Carisa Cunningham, (617) 426-1350; Peter Romer-Friedman, (202) 644-7080

Media Highlights:

The Washington Post (February 18, 2016)
Bloomberg Businessweek (February 17, 2016)

ABOUT THE GAY & LESBIAN ADVOCATES & DEFENDERS: Through strategic litigation, public policy advocacy, and education, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders works in New England and nationally to create a just society free of discrimination based on gender identity and expression, HIV status, and sexual orientation.

ABOUT THE WASHINGTON LAWYERS' COMMITTEE: The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs was established in 1968 to provide pro bono legal services to address issues of discrimination and entrenched poverty. Since then, it has successfully handled thousands of civil rights cases on behalf of individuals and groups in the areas of equal employment opportunity, fair housing, public accommodations, immigrant rights, disability rights, public education, and prisoners’ rights.

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