employee benefits
Wal-Mart will cover same-sex partners

Wal-Mart will allow workers’ same-sex partners to participate in its company health benefits, bringing the largest private employer in the United States in line with most of the nation’s top businesses.

Full-time associates’ spouses and domestic partners will be eligible for coverage in medical, dental, vision, life, critical illness and accident plans, the Bentonville, Ark.-based company told employees this week.

Wal-Mart, a frequent target of labor-rights groups pushing for better pay and benefits, said it made the change to have a consistent policy for all 50 states as some alter their definitions of marriage. Among Fortune 500 companies, 62 percent offer health-care benefits to same-sex partners, up from 34 percent in 2002, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

“Wal-Mart, as America’s largest employer, has sent a cultural signal that equality for LGBT people is the simplest of mainstream values and we look forward to continuing to work with them,” Chad Griffin, president of the Washington-based group, said Tuesday in an e-mailed statement, referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Griffin said he worked at Wal-Mart as a teenager and was “moved” by the decision.

Wal-Mart has 1.3 million full- and part-time U.S. employees, Randy Hargrove, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said. More than half participate in health-care plans. A total of 1.1 million employees and family members are covered by the plans, he said.

The retailer’s definition of domestic partners includes same- or opposite-sex spouses as well as unmarried partners who live together for at least 12 months, aren’t married to anyone else and plan to continue sharing a household indefinitely, Hargrove said.

— Bloomberg News

mortgage lending
Bank of America must face fraud trial

A U.S. government lawsuit accusing Bank of America of fraud in the sale of billions of dollars of toxic mortgage loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is on track to go to trial next month after a judge rejected the bank’s bid to dismiss the case.

In an order made public Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff in Manhattan said there were “genuine factual disputes” that justify letting the case continue against the second-largest U.S. bank.

The order clears the way for the case to proceed toward a scheduled Sept. 23 jury trial. Only a few prominent cases tied to the financial crisis have gone to trial.

The Justice Department sued Bank of America in October, joining a whistleblower lawsuit originally brought by former Countrywide Financial executive Edward O’Donnell. It alleged that Countrywide, acquired by Bank of America in July 2008, caused more than $1 billion of taxpayer losses by selling defective home loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage finance companies seized by the government in September 2008.

The government said the loans went through a program called the “High Speed Swim Lane” — also known as “HSSL” and “Hustle” — that Countrywide devised in 2007 to speed up loan processing, even if it meant ignoring safeguards to help ensure that loans were sound and not tainted by fraud.

Bank of America, in court papers, countered that HSSL was a “legitimate and good-faith effort” to develop systems for making prime loans after the collapse of the subprime market.

A Bank of America spokesman, Lawrence Grayson, said after Rakoff issued his order, “This program ended before our purchase of Countrywide, as the government acknowledges. We believe there was no fraud.”

— Reuters

Also in Business

l  Nissan Motor said it will be ready to bring fully self-driving vehicles to market by 2020. The Japanese automaker said it plans to offer “multiple, commercially viable” vehicles that are capable of autonomous operation without driver input. The self-driving vehicles will be sold “at realistic prices for consumers,” the company said at a media event in Irvine, Calif.

l  The U.S. agricultural sector will enjoy record high income in 2013 as bin-busting grain harvests in the Midwest more than offset expected lower prices, the Department of Agriculture said Tuesday. Net farm income in the United States will reach $120.6 billion this year, up 6 percent from 2012. When adjusted for inflation, net farm income will be the second highest since 1973, USDA said.

l  Facebook said it received 11,000 to 12,000 requests for data from U.S. government entities during the first half of this year, the “vast majority” tied to investigations of crimes such as robberies or kidnappings. From outside the United States, Facebook received about 15,000 requests for data during the first half of 2013, according to the report, published on Facebook’s Web site Tuesday. Overall, the queries covered almost 40,000 users worldwide and came from more than 70 countries.

l  A former JPMorgan Chase trader wanted by the United States for allegedly falsifying bank records to cover up $6 billion in trading losses was arrested in Madrid on Tuesday, Spanish police said. A statement said Spaniard Javier Martin-Artajo, 49, was arrested after he presented himself to police in Madrid. U.S. prosecutors this month filed criminal charges against Martin-Artajo and another former JPMorgan trader, Julien Grout.

l  A New York state appeals court has revived a lawsuit brought by the state attorney general’s office against Charles Schwab & Co. over claims that the brokerage firm fraudulently marketed auction-rate securities. The 2009 lawsuit accused the San Francisco-based firm of fraud in the marketing and sale of the securities and claimed the company’s brokers falsely represented the securities as safe, liquid investments. The lawsuit was brought by former New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

— From news services

Coming Today

l  10 a.m.: Pending home sales index for July released.