A class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart about extending benefits to same-sex couples could set an important legal precedent in California and around the country regarding whether or not failing to do so is prohibited discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. For years, the company denied same-sex benefits to its employees regardless of whether they were in a state where same-sex marriage was legal. Its policy did not change until January of 2014.
The lawsuit was filed by a woman whose spouse developed ovarian cancer, and the couple accumulated $150,000 in medical bills after Wal-Mart refused to extend health benefits to the spouse. The woman’s lawyer argues that this is sex discrimination because the refusal is based on her spouse’s sex. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission already considers anti-gay discrimination to be a form of sex discrimination.
The case will enter mediation before going to court, and some experts believe Wal-Mart has a great deal to gain as well as a lot to lose reputation-wise if it continues to uphold its previous position. If the company agrees to a settlement, it could lead to others who were similarly discriminated against coming forward. On the other hand, some experts point out that a case that goes all the way to the Supreme Court would set up important protections.
People who feel they are facing discrimination in the workplace may want to speak to an attorney before pursuing the issue at work to make sure that they are part of a protected class. If it is a case dealing with sexual orientation discrimination, an attorney may be able to help strategize how the issue might be framed in a subsequent claim.