Walmart to pay $7.5m settlement over same-sex spousal health insurance benefits

US retail organisation Walmart is to pay $7.5 million (£5.8 million) in a class action settlement relating to spousal health insurance benefits for employees in same-sex marriages.

The class action case challenged why corporate health insurance benefits could not be extended to same-sex spouses of eligible employees before 2014.

The settlement is a result of the Jacqueline Cote v Walmart Stores case, which was brought by former Walmart employee Cote, who was unable to add her wife to her health insurance plan despite qualifying for the benefit.

Cote attempted to enrol her wife for the spousal health insurance benefit, which is mainly paid for by Walmart, between 2008 and 2014. Cote’s wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in August 2012, and as a result of not being insured on the spousal health plan, the couple incurred approximately $150,000 (£115,075) of uninsured medical expenses for cancer treatment between 2012 and 2014.

The settlement, which was approved by a federal judge on Monday 15 May 2017, will pay for the claims of affected Walmart employees based in the US and Puerto Rico who were unable to obtain health insurance coverage for their same-sex spouses through Walmart’s health insurance benefit provision between 1 January 2011 and 31 December 2013.

The settlement will also cover administration costs, legal fees and expenses.

Walmart voluntarily extended its health insurance benefit to same-sex spouses of employees in 2014. As part of the settlement agreement, Walmart has committed to continuing to do so.

The settlement is expected to include a few thousand current and former Walmart employees. The organisation currently employs around 1.5 million staff across the US and Puerto Rico.

Sally Welborn, senior vice president, global benefits at Walmart, said: “We’re happy both sides could come together to reach a resolution. Respect for the individual, diversity and inclusion are among the core values that made Walmart into the [organistion] that it is today. 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.”

Peter Romer-Friedman, counsel at Outten and Golden, which represented Cote alongside GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (WLC), and Arnold and Porter Kaye Scholer, said: “We are glad that as part of the settlement Walmart will continue to provide the same health insurance benefits regardless of the gender of the [employee’s] spouse.”

Janson Wu, executive director at GLAD, added: “This is an important settlement for LGBTQ [employees].”