Walmart Denies Health Insurance To Same-Sex Wife Battling Ovarian Cancer

Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images.
Walmart is facing a class-action suit for denying health insurance to the cancer-stricken wife of a female employee. Though Jacqueline Cote and Diana "Dee" Smithson, both former workers at a Massachusetts Walmart, were legally married in 2004, the company did not start providing health-insurance benefits to same-sex couples until 2014. Now, Cote and Smithson are seeking $100,000 from the corporation for violating gender-discrimination laws.

"I'm following through with this for my wife and actually for anyone else who has suffered a similar injustice," Cote told reporters. Cote said that she and Smithson made multiple attempts to register for Wamart's health-insurance plans, starting in 2008 and through 2012, but were prevented by the online system because they are both women.

In 2012, Smithson was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She is currently receiving hospice care at the couple's home. To date, their medical expenses without insurance have exceeded $150,000, the suit alleges.

In 2012, Smithson was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She is currently receiving hospice care at the couple's home. To date, their medical expenses without insurance have exceeded $150,000, the suit alleges.



According to Massachusetts law, it is unlawful for a labor organization — like Walmart — to withhold membership rights — such as spousal health insurance — from its employees on the basis of sexual orientation.

Before 2013, federal law allowed employers to refuse coverage to same-sex couples. This ended when the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down in 2014. That same year, Walmart updated its policies accordingly and began offering all couples health-insurance benefits.

When questioned by Refinery29, a spokesman for Walmart responded that “Walmart expanded its benefits starting in January 2014 and currently covers same-sex spouses and domestic partners. We have not yet seen the details of the lawsuit, and out of respect for Ms. Cote, we are not going to comment other than to say our benefits coverage previous to the 2014 update was consistent with the law.”

Allison Wright, an attorney with Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), is representing Cote and Smithson.

In a statement, Wright said, "Many LGBTQ people across the country live without explicit protections from employment discrimination."

Wright also said she believes that the suit will help bring "economic equality" and "equal treatment" to LGBTQ workers across the country.

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