Former Wal-Mart employee Jacqueline Cote filed a class action lawsuit against the retailer for wrongly denying health insurance benefits to her female spouse. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Boston. Cote is seeking a court ruling that Walmart violated Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, in addition to other laws, and damages for herself and her wife as well as any other Wal-Mart employees who were not offered health insurance for their same-sex spouses. Wal-Mart Changed its policy in January, 2014, and now offers benefits to same-sex couples, but by then Cote and her wife Dee Smithson had incurred at least $150,000 in medical costs.


Damages sought in the lawsuit include out-of-pocket medical costs and punitive damages. Cote says she tried repeatedly to enroll her spouse in Wal-Mart’s corporate health care plan and was rejected due to her gender. She tried again after Smithson was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012, and was again denied coverage. The lawsuit focuses on gender discrimination.

The couple has incurred at least $150,000 in medical costs that they cannot afford to pay. Cote says that Smithson’s suffering from the cancer treatments was made worse by the financial stress. Smithson is now in Hospice care.

EEOC Ruling

Prior to filing the class action suit, Cote filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In January 2015, the agency ruled that Wal-Mart’s refusal to cover Smithson constituted discrimination and ordered the company to provide a just resolution for violating Cote’s civil rights, but in May the EEOC issued a letter granting Cote the right to sue after its efforts to resolve the case were unsuccessful.

If you have been denied benefits as a result of gender discrimination, please call the New Jersey employment attorneys of Lenzo & Reis, LLC, at 973-845-9922 or email us today for a free case evaluation.