A Massachusetts woman filed a class-action lawsuit yesterday accusing Walmart of wrongly denying employee benefits for same-sex spouses. Jacqueline Cote says Walmart repeatedly denied medical insurance for her wife before 2014, when the retail giant started offering benefits for same-sex spouses. The couple incurred at least $150,000 in medical costs after Cote's wife, Dee Smithson, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012; Cote said in a call with reporters that the financial stress worsened Smithson's suffering through cancer treatments. The lawsuit filed in US District Court in Boston seeks damages for the couple and for any other Walmart employees who weren't offered insurance for their same-sex spouses. It asks for money to cover out-of-pocket medical costs and for other punitive damages.
Walmart issued a statement yesterday reading in part, "Out of respect for Ms. Cote we are not going to comment other than to say our benefits coverage previous to the 2014 update was consistent with the law." Cote, of New Bedford, previously took her case to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which decided in January that Walmart's denial amounted to discrimination and ordered the company to provide a "just resolution" for violating Cote's civil rights. In an interview, Cote said they "weren't able to work it out." The commission gave her permission to sue in May. As for Smithson, her cancer returned last year and she's now "receiving hospice care at home," said Cote. "We take things one day at a time and try to make the most out of every hour that we get to spend together."