On July 14, 2015, a female Walmart employee filed this class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Represented by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the plaintiff alleged that Wal-Mart had intentionally deprived her of employment-based spousal health insurance benefits because the plaintiff and her wife were the same sex. This, she alleged, violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal Equal Pay Act, and the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Law. The plaintiff sought declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief, as well as class action certification.
This case was assigned to District Judge William G. Young. Discovery and settlement negotiations proceeded, and were successful: in December 2016, the parties proposed a class-wide settlement.
The class was specified as all current and former Walmart employees who were legally married to “legal same-sex spouse” between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2013, would have been eligible to receive spousal health insurance benefits from Wal-Mart if they’d been married to a person of the opposite sex, but did not receive those benefits.
The remedy included a payment of $7.5 million—which covered reasonable attorneys fees to be determined by the Court (but not to exceed $1.875 million), a $25,000 “service payment” to the named plaintiff, all notice and administrative costs of the settlement (not to exceed $110,000), and damages paid to class members. Class members were able to submit proof of actual medical expenses, which received priority. Whatever money was left after those were paid was to be distributed pro rata to all the other class members, with a cap of $5000 per year for each class member. The settlement agreement set up a claims process to manage the distribution of these funds. Class members had the ability to “opt out” of the settlement, in which case they would receive no money, but retain their right to sue separately.
In addition, the settlement had a paragraph on “programmatic relief,” in which Wal-Mart “commit[ed] to treating same-sex and opposite-sex spouses or couples equally in the provision of health insurance benefits, so long as to do so is consistent with applicable law.”
On December 16, 2016, Judge Young granted the parties’ motion for preliminary approval of the settlement. Wal-Mart was required to notify the members of the class and to give them the chance to object to the settlement if they chose to do so. A final hearing on the settlement was set for May 2017.
This case is ongoing.Lauren Shepard - 04/07/2016