Thursday, July 27, 2006

employment - health insurance - COBRA - adequate notice

Mershon v. Woodburne Family Practice - ED Pa - July 19, 2006

Plaintiff had problems during her pregnancy. The employer decided that she had abandoned her job and sent her a COBRA notice, 29 USC sec. 1165, in early November saying that her coverage expired at the end of November.

Plaintiff sued for a) Pregnancy Discrimination, 42 USC 2000e et seq., b) discrimination under the state PHRA. 42 Pa. C.S. 951 et seq, and c) the COBRA statute.

The court granted the motion to dismiss the claims under the pregnancy and state PHRA laws, holding that Plaintiff had failed to allege that the employer treated pregnancy-related absences were treated any differently from other medical absences.

However, the court denied the motion to dismiss the COBRA claim. The statute requires that an employee have at least 60 days in which to make a COBRA decision to elect continued coverage, 29 USC sec. 1165. The 60 days had not expired when Plaintiff learned of her dismissal. The statute requires a continuation of coverage from the date of the qualifying event -- whether her failure return to work or her dismissal by the employer -- through the election period, 29 USC 1161. The employer's premature cancellation of coverage in this case -- more than a month before it should have done so -- resulted in uninsured medical expenses and costs to the state in the form of MA benefits. Branch v. G. Bernd Co, 955 F2d 1574 (1582 (5th Cir. 1992), holding the employer liable for the employee's medical expenses.