In July 2015, a Wal-Mart employee sued her employer in federal court, alleging that the corporation had intentionally deprived her of spousal health insurance benefits because she and her spouse were of the same sex. She’d worked for the company for 15 years.
This lawsuit was filed a few weeks after same-sex marriage was legalized by the United States Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges. This holding had broad implications for many areas of law, including the issue of health insurance provided to the spouses of employees. Prior to this holding and an earlier ruling related to federal spousal benefits that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, employers tended to believe they were entitled not to recognize same-sex marriage. For three years before 2014, the company would not pay health insurance benefits to employees involved in same-sex marriages.
Wal-Mart started to provide benefits to same-sex couples in 2014. About 1,200 employees signed up to get these benefits. By then, the named plaintiff’s wife had developed ovarian cancer and had incurred $150,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.