Wal-Mart Settles Discrimination Suit Over Same-Sex Spouse Benefits
Wal-Mart announced on Friday that it had settled a lawsuit that accused the company of discriminating against gay employees when it denied health insurance benefits to same-sex spouses. Under the deal, Wal-Mart will set aside $7.5 million, mostly to compensate employees affected by the denial of spousal benefits during the three years before Jan. 1, 2014, when the company changed its policy. More than 1,000 people may be eligible. Wal-Mart also said it's committed to treating same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples equally when administering health benefits. Wal-Mart made same-sex spouses eligible for health benefits in 2014, but even after this it maintained it had no legal obligation to do so.
Total Retail's Take: The deal Wal-Mart has agreed upon is interesting and important for the retailer, but in a broader context as well: it signals how legal doctrine on discrimination against gays and lesbians is changing, making it likely to be considered a form of sex discrimination, and therefore outlawed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This type of doctrine would make it easier for gay and lesbian plaintiffs to prevail in court, as federal civil rights laws prohibit sex discrimination.