Alim Kheraj
December 06, 2016 5:37 am
Mark Mainz/Getty Images/HelloGiggles

While not necessarily known for their staunch LGBTQ+ advocacy, Walmart has helped the gay rights movement progress towards a huge victory.

The company, which is the largest private employer of in the country, recently announced its plans to add insurance coverage for its transgender workers and same sex couples. Given that in 28 states it is still legal for someone to loose their jobs for being gay, Walmart has joined the likes of Apple and Xerox to help protect employee rights.

Firstly, the company settled a legal battle that saw one of its employees, Jacqueline Cote, sued the company for not allowing her wife, Diana Smithson, to enroll in her healthcare plan after she lost her insurance. Smithson, who was suffering from ovarian cancer, later died this year, but not before the couple racked up over $150,000 in uninsured medical bills.

Cote decided to file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, stating that Walmart had violated the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which disallows employment discrimination “because of sex.”

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In a historic battle, Cote claimed that anti-gay workplace discrimination was actually a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and that it was, therefore, an illegal practice. While there is a movement to add LGBTQ+ discrimination to the Civil Rights Act, Cote’s case argued that Title VII stops sex discrimination, and as a result sex discrimination also covered sexual orientation discrimination.

As Slate report, part of this was down to the fact that The Supreme Court has suggested that Title VII disallows something called “sex stereotyping,” which means that one doesn’t have to adhere to gender norms. Thus, the assumption that man has to be with a woman and vice versa is essentially sex discrimination. Similarly, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) also argues that discrimination against sexual orientation is actually just discrimination writ-large. They also cited Loving v. Virgina — the landmark civil rights case that saw an end to the discrimination against interracial relationships — as an analogous example.

In a landmark move, however, Walmart chose not to contest Cote and her lawyer’s interpretation of Title VII.

Instead, the company concede, awarding Cotes $7.5 million in a settlement as compensation. What’s more, others who have suffered because of the antiquated insurance policies will also be awarded reimbursement and restitution of up to 200% for any costs incurred.

The implications of this, however, are astounding.

By agreeing with Cotes’ argument, Walmart have essentially agreed that LGBTQ+ discrimination falls under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Basically, Walmart have seem to have agreed that sexual orientation discrimination should already be considered a violation of the Civil Rights Act. It’s a great step in the right direction seeing a major company support the EEOC and many courts and federal agencies, and could signal a step in the direction of The Supreme Court affirming Cotes’ interpretation of the law.

Walmart has also come out in support of transgender workers, too.

The company also added insurance coverage for transgender employees to their policy, meaning that they now score a perfect 100 on Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.

The company has previously spoken up in support of transgender and gay rights. Following his take over as CEO three years ago, Doug McMillon actively opposed the Arkansas governor’s religious freedom bill that saw LGBTQ+ people discriminated against when it came to employment, housing, and public accommodation on religious grounds.

“Corporate America has risen to the top in terms of being a high-impact influencer on LGBT rights,” Deena Fidas, director of the workplace equality project at the Human Rights Campaign, the largest advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, told Bloomberg. 

“We have corporations going on the record at the federal level, at the judicial level, and certainly at the state level speaking out against what we would call anti-LGBT bills.”

While there is still some way to go in terms of full equality, it’s incredible to see a company like Walmart speaking out against any sort of discrimination and rectifying it’s own past errors.

[H/T Slate]

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