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Image courtesy of Mike Blake, Reuters.

A federal judge approved a $7.5 million class-action settlement against retail giant Wal-Mart, after finding that the company had violated gender discrimination laws by denying spousal benefits to same-sex couples.

According to The Boston Globe, the suit was filed on behalf of a New Bedford, MA, woman by the advocacy group GLAD. The Globe notes the settlement is largely based on the Supreme Court ruling which affirmed the right of same-sex couples across the country to marry and be entitled to federal spousal benefits.

The lead plaintiff in the case was Jacqueline Cote, a former employee of Wal-Mart for 15 years. She was joined in the class action by 300 other plaintiffs, all current or former employees of the retail behemoth.

Lead plaintiff Jacqueline Cotes with wife.
Lead plaintiff Jacqueline Cote with her wife, Diana Smithson. Image courtesy of 777 Portraits.

The plaintiffs will split a total amount of $5.5 million – $2 million is to be deducted from the whole award of $7.5 million for attorneys fees.

U.S. District Judge William G. Young, who approved the settlement, called the award ‘fair and reasonable,’ per The Boston Globe.

“This was a carefully crafted and sensible resolution of a complex matter, and it reflects well on the parties from both sides,” Young said in the courtroom Monday.

Wal-Mart had agreed in 2014 to pay spousal benefits to same-sex employees, shortly after the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the Supreme Court.

However, for about three years before 2014, the company had withheld benefits – despite a ruling which predated the 2014 decision which entitled same-sex couples to spousal benefits.

In a statement on the same day, Cote said, “I’m pleased that Walmart was willing to resolve this issue for me and other associates who are married to someone of the same sex. It’s a relief to bring this chapter of my life to a close.”

The New York Times noted in a recent argument that the settlement and proceedings leading to it seemed to indicate that Wal-Mart was unwilling to challenge some of the points raised by the plaintiffs – including Cotes’ assertion that she had faced discrimination due both to her sexual orientation as well as her failure to conform to gender norms which stipulate that women are to marry men.

“Some employers, as well as some employee groups, will be wondering if this reflects Walmart’s assessment of where the courts might be moving,” said Helen Norton, a profesor at the University of Colardo Law School.

Sandy Walburn, Wal-Mart’s vice president, remarked on the settlement by saying, “We’re happy both sides could come together to reach a resolution … We will continue to not distinguish between same and opposite sex spouses when it comes to the benefits we offer under our health insurance plan.”

Sources

Walmart settles for $7.5m after denying spousal benefits to gay couples

Walmart Settles Discrimination Suit Over Benefits for Same-Sex Spouses

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