Editor's note: The following is an open letter to Walmart president and CEO Douglas McMillon, suggesting to the multinational retail giant's leader a way to resolve a pending class-action lawsuit, which alleges antigay bias in the dispensation of employment benefits. Find more information about that lawsuit here.
Dear Mr. McMillon:
We write to you today to urge you to resolve the Cote et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. class action lawsuit by compensating all of your current or former employees who were denied health care benefits for their same-sex spouses prior to 2014. In addition, if you instead choose to pursue litigation, we urge you to refrain from taking the legal position that LGBT plaintiffs cannot bring legal claims pursuant to the sex discrimination ban in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
As you know, Walmart is facing a class action lawsuit that alleges that employees married to same-sex spouses were discriminated against because Walmart denied those spouses health insurance benefits, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and other civil rights laws. Walmart employee Jacqueline Cote, who worked in Walmart’s store in Swansea, Mass., tried to add her wife, Diana Smithson, to her employee-sponsored health insurance plan but was repeatedly denied. Walmart updated its policy on January 1, 2014, to include same-sex spousal benefits. However, Ms. Smithson was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012 and, without health insurance, had already incurred $150,000 in medical expenses.
As Walmart is the largest private employer in the country, there could be hundreds, even thousands, of employees who were also denied benefits for their same-sex spouses. All Walmart workers, no matter their race, gender, age, or sexuality, deserve and expect respect, fairness, and equality in the workplace.
Therefore, we are asking you to identify all current or former employees of Walmart who prior to January 1, 2014, (a) had legal and valid marriages with a person of the same sex, (b) would have been eligible to receive spousal health insurance benefits from Walmart but for Walmart’s prohibition on same-sex spouses qualifying for spousal health insurance benefits, and (c) did not receive spousal health insurance benefits from Walmart. After identifying these individuals, we urge you to do the right thing and compensate them for all of the losses they suffered, including out-of-pocket medical expenses.
If you decline to resolve the Cote matter in this way, we urge you to litigate this case with respect for the LGBT legal protections that are increasingly being recognized by federal courts and agencies throughout the United States. As you may know, federal district courts have begun to recognize that discrimination against lesbians and gay men violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act because it is a form of sex stereotyping. Indeed, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission just this month held that discrimination against lesbians and gay men constitutes unlawful sex discrimination. In the current case brought against Walmart, the EEOC has already determined that your pre-2014 benefits policy was a form of sex discrimination in violation of federal law.
Consistent with these important legal victories for the LGBT community, we urge you to litigate your defense in this case without resorting to the legal position that gays and lesbians cannot bring discrimination claims based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Walmart has recently begun to talk more about respect for the LGBT community, but actions speak louder than words. We are asking you to take responsibility for your prior policies that for years wrongly discriminated against people in loving, legal, same-sex marriages.
National LGBTQ Task Force
National Women’s Law Center
Pride at Work
Freedom to Work
Jobs With Justice
Massachusetts Jobs With Justice
A Better Balance
9to5, National Association of Working Women
Coalition of Labor Union Women
Family Values @ Work
Labor Project for Working Families
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Walmart CEO Douglas McMillon's last name. The Advocate regrets this error, and has corrected the text above.