The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has found Wal-Mart discriminated against a lesbian employee who sought health coverage for her sick wife and has now ordered a resolution for violating her civil rights reports ABC News. In a Jan. 29 EEOC ruling, the agency stated Wal-Mart employee Jacqueline Cote of New Bedford, Mass. “was treated differently and denied benefits because of her sex."
Cote attempted to enroll her wife Diana Smithson, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, in Wal-Mart’s health plan in 2008 however, her coverage was denied and the company didn’t provide it until 2014. Randy Hargrove, a spokesman with Wal-Mart, said the company is willing to meet with the couple to resolve the issue at hand.
"While we disagree with the finding of reasonable cause, we have notified the EEOC of our willingness to meet with them and Miss Cote to discuss resolving the matter."
Smithson, who married Cote in Massachusetts in May 2004, attempted to enroll her wife online starting in 2008 but found that the system denied her from proceeding when she denoted that her spouse is a woman. Cote sought an explanation and was told that same-sex spouses are not covered. Cote attempted to enroll every year since then, including 2012 when Smithson was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Cote approached Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders in 2013, which filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC the following year.
The couple has $100,000 in medical bills and paid out of pocket for said expenses in 2012 when Smithson lost private health coverage. The couple’s attorney, GLAD attorney Allison Wright, is seeking a settlement negotiation with the retail giant to cover Smithson’s costly treatments.
Cote, 52, and Smithson, 63, met while working in a Wal-Mart store in Augusta, Maine. For Cote, the lawsuit is more than just recouping damages. "I'm not only doing this for me, I'm doing this for other gay and lesbian couples that have been discriminated against as well," said Cote.
Wal-Mart expanded its policy in January 2014 to cover same sex spouses and domestic partners.