A federal agency says Walmart discriminated against a lesbian employee who sought health coverage for her ailing wife and has ordered "a just resolution" for violating her civil rights. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ordered the retail giant to work with Jacqueline Cote of New Bedford, Mass., who hopes the determination will help her pay off $100,000 in medical bills. In a Jan. 29 EEOC ruling obtained by the Associated Press, the agency said Cote "was treated differently and denied benefits because of her sex." Cote tried to enroll her partner in Walmart's health plan repeatedly starting in 2008, but coverage was denied, and the company didn't provide it until 2014.
In 2012, Cote's wife, Diana Smithson, was diagnosed with cancer. She was in remission for 18 months but resumed chemotherapy treatments last month. "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," says a Walmart spokesman. The company says it expanded its policy in 2014 to include same-sex couples. Cote, 52, and Smithson, 63, met while working at a Walmart store in Augusta, Maine, in 1999. They moved to Massachusetts, where they continued to work for Walmart and where they married in May 2004, just days after the state legalized same-sex marriage. (Read more Walmart stories.)