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Reuters reports that Walmart has agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle a lawsuit that accused it of discriminating against gay employees by not providing health benefits to their spouses.

The settlement must still be approved by a federal judge.

As part of the agreement, which is designed to resolve a 2015 lawsuit that was filed in Boston, Walmart issued a statement about how inclusion and diversity are key corporate values: "We will continue to not distinguish between same and opposite sex spouses when it comes to the benefits we offer under our health insurance plan," said Sally Welborn, a senior vice president with the company.

The lawsuit originally was filed by Jacqueline Cote, who, as Reuters reports, "worked at Wal-Mart stores in Maine and Massachusetts since 1999." The suit said that "her wife, Diana Smithson, developed cancer in 2012 and Wal-Mart's denial of insurance coverage led to more than $150,000 in medical debt. Smithson died in March."

The story goes on to note that "federal employment discrimination laws do not explicitly provide protections for gay workers. But LGBT groups and the Obama administration have aggressively pushed the argument that bias against gay people is a form of sex discrimination, and three federal appeals courts are currently considering that claim."

Meanwhile, Bloomberg has a story about how Walmart's decision to add insurance coverage for transgender workers earlier this year put it in the company of "more than 500 companies taking a bigger role in advancing the rights of LGBT employees in a competitive market for labor. Companies from Apple Inc. to Xerox Corp. are pushing to protect employee rights and improve gender equality."

However, this may run to legislative trends. Bloomberg writes that "in 28 states, it’s still legal to fire a person for being gay, and President-elect Donald Trump has said he will rescind President Barack Obama’s executive orders, some of which aim at workplace diversity." However, "some companies, including Salesforce.com Inc., PayPal Holdings Inc. and Dow Chemical Co., have also started working with LGBT rights advocates on plans to take on expected anti-LGBT legislation at the state level."

The Bloomberg story goes on to note that "Wal-Mart, the largest private employer in the U.S. and the world’s biggest retailer, has been trying to improve its image to appeal to more customers, particularly on the east and west coasts, where its reputation for low wages and poor benefits has hurt its ability to open new stores." One of the ways it has been doing so has been to improve its reputation for diversity.

And, the New York Times writes, "The agreement also signals how legal doctrine on discrimination against gays and lesbians is rapidly changing, making it increasingly likely to be considered a form of sex discrimination. Such a doctrine would generally make it easier for gay and lesbian plaintiffs to prevail in court, as federal civil rights laws prohibit sex discrimination."
KC's View:
A few comments here...

First, the $7.5 million is going to be split up among 1,000 or more people who were party to the suit. Which means that the most that any person would get is $7,500 ... and that's before paying legal fees.

So this is not about the money.

What it is about is fairness and equality. And, by the way, being the kind of company that can attract the most and best employees. (Which is really the bottom line.)

Even if one disagrees with the concept of same-sex marriage, the courts clearly have established that it is the legal right of gay people and lesbians to marry. Even if one disagrees with that conclusion, I don't see how it should affect insurance coverage.

Besides, at a time when it is harder and harder to find good employees, it simply does not make a helluva lot of sense to create a corporate image that is hostile to a lot of people and that arbitrarily reduces the pool of people from which a company can choose.