Wal-Mart is being sued for both allegedly denying health benefits to same-sex spouses of employees as well as rejecting pregnant employees’ requests to limit heavy lifting, climbing on ladders, and other potentially dangerous tasks. In the former suit, an employee in Massachusetts (where same-sex marriage has been legally recognized since 2004) attempted to add her wife to her insurance during Wal-Mart's open enrollment period.
"When Cote (the plaintiff) entered her spouse's gender as ‘female,’ the online system would stop her from proceeding further," states case documents filed on her behalf by GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders. "When she called Wal-Mart's home office to investigate, she was told that Wal-Mart didn't offer health insurance coverage to same-sex spouses." The retail chain changed its policy in 2013. By then Cote, whose wife lost a fight to ovarian cancer last year, was facing $150,000 in medical bills. A settlement of $7.5 million between Wal-Mart and current and former employees part of the class-action suit has been proposed.
In the latter lawsuit, two employees at two different Wal-Mart stores said that until 2014, there was a companywide policy that denied pregnant women the same accommodations as workers with other disabilities. They say that Wal-Mart's old policy violated a federal law requiring employers to treat pregnancy as a temporary disability and provide work accommodations to pregnant women. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 2015 case involving the United Parcel Service, said employers can’t treat pregnant workers differently from those with other disabilities or medical conditions. Wal-Mart changed its policy in 2014 to treat pregnancy as a disability, but lawyers for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit say the changes didn't go far enough.
Total Retail’s Take: This hasn't been a good week for Wal-Mart. Yesterday, as we reported, news came out that the company’s CEO Doug McMillon is being ordered to submit to questioning in a lawsuit by shareholders hoping to learn what he knows about suspected bribery by the company in Mexico. Add these two other latest lawsuits into the mix, and this is a PR nightmare for Wal-Mart. Both women’s and LGBT’s rights are important social issues right now, so none of this looks good for Wal-Mart.