New Bedford Woman Sues Walmart For Employment Discrimination
A New Bedford woman, who works at Walmart, is suing the retail giant after they denied health benefits to her wife, even after she was diagnosed with cancer. The class-action lawsuit was filed Tuesday at the U.S. District Court in Boston.
Jacqueline Cote is alleging discrimination after she repeatedly attempted to enroll her wife, Diana Smithson, in Walmart’s corporate health plan but was rejected after revealing that her spouse was female.
Cote tried the process again after her wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012, but says Smithson was denied once more.
“As soon as I clicked on the box that she was female, a little message came up telling me I couldn’t continue,” Cote revealed.
In 2014 the couple incurred $150,000 in medical costs, which they are still struggling to pay. That same year Walmart changed its policy to extend health benefits to same-sex couples and Smithson was subsequently covered by the health plan.
In a statement Tuesday, Walmart said: “We have not yet seen the details of the lawsuit and 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 revealed that the lawsuit was filed in order to hold Walmart responsible for her wife’s medical care, “It’s definitely, without question in my mind, the right thing to do for me and my wife and for other people who have suffered in a similar fashion."
According to the lawsuit, Walmart is under no legal obligation to maintain coverage for same-sex couples, despite the landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage.
Allison Wright, Cote’s lawyer and staff attorney at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said there is still discrimination in the workplace for same-sex couples.
“It is harder for LGBTQ to find and keep jobs, earn a living, and provide for themselves and their family, which can lead to poverty,” said Wright. “We still have work to do in the community to make sure employers are respecting LGBTQ families and providing them with equal benefits.”
The Walmart office associate has since taken a leave of absence to care for Smithson, 63, who is in hospice care.
“Everything in my life is for her, and I don’t know if we are going to be able to do this,” Cote said. “With each coming hospice visit, it’s very difficult to look at the future and wonder if those medical bills are going to be paid off.”
Additional reporting by Victoria Meneses