Cote v. Walmart
Update: The EEOC issued a notice of probable cause on January 29, indicating that Walmart's refusal to allow Jackie to include her spouse, Diana, on her health insurance did constitute discrimination based on Jackie's sex.
GLAD has filed a charge of discrimination against Walmart with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of Jacqueline Cote. Cote, a Walmart employee, was denied spousal health insurance for her wife, Diana Smithson, who is currently battling ovarian cancer. The charge alleges that in refusing to provide spousal coverage, Walmart violated both state and federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in employment.
Cote works as an associate in the Swansea, MA Walmart store. Starting in 2006 and continuing through 2012, she attempted to add Smithson to her insurance during Walmart’s open enrollment periods, trying to access a benefit available to all other qualified Walmart employees. Cote was particularly concerned about health insurance because of her wife’s health history – Smithson had had a bout with breast cancer in 1995.
But when Cote entered her spouse’s gender as “female,” the online system would stop her from proceeding further. When she called Walmart’s home office to investigate, she was told that Walmart did not offer health insurance coverage to same-sex spouses.
While Walmart ultimately announced that it would change its policy in 2013 - which went into effect on January 1, 2014 - by that time Cote and Smithson had racked up medical bills topping $100,000, been hounded by bill collectors, and lost many nights’ sleep to worry.
“All that Jackie wanted was to be treated like all other Walmart employees, and to take care of her spouse. Instead, Walmart chose to discriminate against its married gay and lesbian employees.” - Janson Wu, GLAD Senior Staff Attorney
Diana Smithson and Jacqueline Cote. Photo: 777 Portraits Myrtle Beach, SC
“I felt like a second class citizen. I had to keep trying; I wouldn’t give up.” - Jacqueline Cote