After the world’s largest public corporation, Walmart, denied employee Jacqueline Cote’s wife Diana Smithson spousal health care, the Gay and Lesbian Defenders (GLAD) filed a charge of discrimination against the company.
According to GLAD, who filed the complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, refusing to cover Smithson – who is battling ovarian cancer – is violating the state and federal laws which prohibit sex discrimination in employment.
“I felt like a second class employee,” Cote said, who has worked with the Swansea, Massachusetts store for six years. “I had to keep trying; I wouldn’t give up.”
Cote, who started work as an associate in 2006, tried to get insurance during Walmart’s open enrollment periods. Her wife had breast cancer in 1995 and Cote wanted to make sure she could receive spousal insurance.
However, when she added her wife’s gender in the online system, she was stopped. When she called the home office, she was told same-sex spouses were not covered.
“All that Jackie wanted was to be treated like all other Walmart employees and to take care of her spouse,” senior staff attorney at GLAD, Janson Wu said. “Instead, Walmart chose to discriminate against its gay and lesbian employees.”
Wu said this act is gender discrimination, which violates a federal law.
“If [Cote] had been a male employee asking for benefits for his wife, she would have gotten the benefits,” Wu said. “It’s only because she was a female employee that she was denied.”
Spokesman for Walmart, Randy Hargrove, said the company didn’t have a policy in place for same-sex couples when Cote applied for insurance. Walmart changed its policy, which went into effect January 1, 2014, allowing same-sex couples to receive insurance, but by that time, Smithson and Cote’s medical bills had already topped $100,000.
Cote and Smithson were married in 2004, and have been together for almost 23 years.
“We wanted to put our relationship in writing and show our commitment to each other,” Cote said. The couple married as soon as they legally could. “We are each other’s rock.”
GLAD is suing for the couples’ medical bills and $100,000 for the emotional stress of dealing with cancer without health care.
This article was brought to you by The Seattle Lesbian.