Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Suit Alleges Discrimination Against Same-Sex Spouse Constitutes "Sex" Discrimination

Following the Supreme Court's recent decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States, many commentators noted that same-sex couples may still face discrimination because sexual orientation discrimination is not explicitly prohibited under federal law nor under the law of a number of states.  Yesterday in a class action lawsuit filed in federal district court in Massachusetts, a Wal-Mart employee is seeking a ruling that discrimination against a same-sex spouse is discrimination on the basis of "sex", a classification that is covered by state and federal anti-discrimination laws. At issue is Wal-Mart's policy of denying spousal health insurance benefits to same-sex spouses of eligible employees.  If the theory is successful, it could lay the groundwork for public accommodation suits, as well as employment discrimination ones.

The complaint (full text) in Cote v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., (D MA, filed 7/14/2015), alleges that the EEOC issued a right to sue letter, finding that the refusal to add plaintiff's same-sex spouse to her health insurance policy constituted discrimination on the basis of sex since such coverage would have been provided if she were married to a man rather than another woman. The suit alleges that denial of benefits violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act and the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Law because benefits would have been provided if plaintiff were married to someone of the opposite sex or if she were a different sex than her spouse. National Law Journal reports on the lawsuit.