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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 (GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders)
Outten & Golden
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 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 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 had 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 $5,000 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.

The fairness hearing took place on May 15, 2017. Judge Young issued a final order approving the settlement the following day. He approved Plaintiffs' motion for attorney's fees, and awarded counsel $1.875 million in fees and $25,285.04 in litigation expenses.

The court retained jurisdiction over the case either for a period of six months after the Settlement Effective Date, or for a period of one month after all Settlement Class Members received their final payments and any remaining funds had been distributed cypres--whichever was longer.

As of March 2019, nearly two years after the settlement agreement was entered, there has been no further litigation. The case is presumed closed.

Lauren Shepard - 04/07/2016
- 01/22/2017
Michael Beech - 03/23/2019


compress summary

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Defendant-type
Retailer
Discrimination-area
Pay / Benefits
Discrimination-basis
Sexual orientatation
General
Gay/lesbian/transgender
Marriage
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 (GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders)
Outten & Golden
Washington Lawyers' Committee
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Attorneys fees
Damages
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Filing Year 2015
Case Closing Year 2017
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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Docket(s)
1:15-cv-12945 (D. Mass.)
EE-MA-0023-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/16/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Class Action Complaint [ECF# 1]
EE-MA-0023-0001.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 07/14/2015
Memorandum of Law In Support of Plaintiff's Motion For Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement And Approval of Proposed Notice of Settlement [ECF# 51]
EE-MA-0023-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/02/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Settlement Agreement [ECF# 54-1]
EE-MA-0023-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/02/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Final Order Approving Settlement [ECF# 83] (D. Mass.)
EE-MA-0023-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/16/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Young, William G. (D. Mass.) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0023-0004 | EE-MA-0023-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Abrahamson, Sally Jasmine (New York) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0023-0003 | EE-MA-0023-9000
Buseck, Gary D. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0023-0001 | EE-MA-0023-0003 | EE-MA-0023-9000
Freedman, John A. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0023-0003 | EE-MA-0023-9000
Grossi, Peter Thomas Jr. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0023-0003 | EE-MA-0023-9000
Handley, Matthew K. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0023-0003 | EE-MA-0023-9000
Romer-Friedman, Peter (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0023-0001 | EE-MA-0023-0002 | EE-MA-0023-0003 | EE-MA-0023-9000
Turner, Juno E. (New York) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0023-0003 | EE-MA-0023-9000
Warlick, Sarah (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0023-0003 | EE-MA-0023-9000
Wright, Allison Whitney (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0023-0003 | EE-MA-0023-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Beer, Naomi G. (Colorado) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0023-9000
DeGiacomo, Paula J. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0023-9000
McCourt, Terence P. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0023-9000
Ondrasik, Paul J. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0023-9000
Richards, John R. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0023-9000
Serron, Eric (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
EE-MA-0023-9000

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