University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Cote v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. EE-MA-0023
Docket / Court 1:15-cv-12945-WGY ( D. Mass. )
State/Territory Massachusetts
Case Type(s) Equal Employment
Attorney Organization GLAD
Washington Lawyers' Committee
Case Summary
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 ... read more >
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
- 01/22/2017


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Affected Gender
Female
Defendant-type
Retailer
Discrimination-area
Pay / Benefits
Discrimination-basis
Sexual orientatation
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)
State law
Title VII (including PDA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e
Defendant(s) Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Plaintiff Description Wal-Mart employees who had lawful, valid marriages with a person of the same sex and were deprived of employment-based spousal health insurance benefits because of their sex.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations GLAD
Washington Lawyers' Committee
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Pending
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year n/a
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Case Studies Megacases, Diversity, and the Elusive Goal of Workplace Reform
Written: Mar. 01, 2008
By: Nancy Levit (University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law)
Citation: 49 B.C. L. Rev. 367 (2008)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Second Generation Employment Discrimination: A Structural Approach
By: Susan Sturm (Columbia Law School)
Citation: 101 Colum. L. Rev. 458 (2001)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
1:15-cv-12945 (D. Mass.)
EE-MA-0023-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/22/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Class Action Complaint
EE-MA-0023-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/14/2015
Settlement Agreement
EE-MA-0023-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/02/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum of Law In Support of Plaintiff's Motion For Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement And Approval of Proposed Notice of Settlement
EE-MA-0023-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/02/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Young, William G. (D. Mass.)
EE-MA-0023-9000
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Abrahamson, Sally Jasmine (New York)
EE-MA-0023-0003 | EE-MA-0023-9000
Buseck, Gary D. (Massachusetts)
EE-MA-0023-0001 | EE-MA-0023-0003 | EE-MA-0023-9000
Freedman, John A. (District of Columbia)
EE-MA-0023-0003 | EE-MA-0023-9000
Grossi, Peter (District of Columbia)
EE-MA-0023-0003 | EE-MA-0023-9000
Handley, Matthew K. (District of Columbia)
EE-MA-0023-0003 | EE-MA-0023-9000
Romer-Friedman, Peter (District of Columbia)
EE-MA-0023-0001 | EE-MA-0023-0002 | EE-MA-0023-0003 | EE-MA-0023-9000
Turner, Juno E. (New York)
EE-MA-0023-0003 | EE-MA-0023-9000
Warlick, Sarah (District of Columbia)
EE-MA-0023-0003 | EE-MA-0023-9000
Wright, Allison Whitney (Massachusetts)
EE-MA-0023-0003 | EE-MA-0023-9000
Defendant's Lawyers DeGiacomo, Paula J. (Massachusetts)
EE-MA-0023-9000
McCourt, Terence P. (Massachusetts)
EE-MA-0023-9000
Ondrasik, Paul J. (District of Columbia)
EE-MA-0023-9000
Richards, John R. (District of Columbia)
EE-MA-0023-9000
Serron, Eric (District of Columbia)
EE-MA-0023-9000
Other Lawyers None on record

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