Walmart announced on Friday that it had settled a lawsuit that accused the company of discriminating against gay and lesbian employees when it denied health insurance benefits to same-sex spouses.
Under the deal, Walmart will set aside $7.5 million, mostly to compensate employees affected by the denial of spousal benefits during the three years before Jan. 1, 2014, when the company changed its policy. More than 1,000 people may be eligible.
But 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.
“We’re happy both sides could come together to reach a resolution,” Sally Welborn, a Walmart senior vice president, said in a statement. “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.”
The settlement is pending preliminary approval by the judge in the case, which typically happens within a matter of weeks.