Mega-retailer Walmart was sued Tuesday by a long-time employee over the company’s refusal to provide health insurance benefits to her wife.
The lawsuit alleges Walmart violated gender discrimination laws and seeks national class-action status.
Wal-Mart, the largest private U.S. employer, began offering health insurance benefits to same-sex spouses last year, after the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to married gay couples.
Jackie Cote, an office manager who has worked at Walmart stores in Maine and Massachusetts since 1999, said in the lawsuit that her wife, Diana Smithson, developed cancer in 2012 and that the denial of insurance led to $150,000 in medical debt, hampering her recovery.
Cote and Smithson were married in Massachusetts in 2004, the same year a court ruling made the state the first in the country to allow gay nuptials.
Smithson worked for Wal-Mart until 2008, when she left to care for Cote’s elderly mother, according to the lawsuit. The company then repeatedly denied requests by Cote to add her wife to her insurance policy.
When Cote brought her claims to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Wal-Mart said federal anti-discrimination laws did not apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees, so it did not have to offer benefits to their spouses.
With the recent ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, it will be interesting to see if the EEOC includes that decision in its final judgment on the case.