Filed in Florida federal court by Jamie Bryant, a former store manager at Wal-mart, the suit alleges the retailer violated the Employment Retirement Income Security Act by failing to adequately inform plan participants and beneficiaries of their right to continue health coverage under COBRA. Specifically, the suit states that although Wal-mart did send out notices to its employees, those notices were not clear enough for an average person enrolled in the plan to understand.
The suit states: "Defendant ... has repeatedly violated ERISA by failing to provide participants and beneficiaries in the plan with adequate notice, as prescribed by COBRA, of their right to continue their health coverage upon the occurrence of a 'qualifying event' as defined by the statute."
According to the complaint, qualifying events for COBRA include termination, other than for gross misconduct, or a reduction in working hours. Bryant alleges that she had worked at Wal-mart since 2009 and was fired in April 2016. Following that, she received the deficient COBRA notice that negatively impacted her ability to continue her health care coverage.
"The notice provided to plaintiff is confusing, ambiguous and critical components, if included, are piecemealed throughout the notice rather than being made clear and understandable to the average plan participant," the complaint states.
Further, Bryant claims that Wal-Mart's COBRA notice failed to provide all required explanatory information, including how a spouse may choose to continue coverage or that a legal guardian can elect to continue coverage on behalf of a minor child.
The COBRA notice that Wal-mart sent out also fails to provide contact information for the person(s) responsible for administering the health plan and benefits, according to the lawsuit.
The putative class consists of participants and beneficiaries who were in Wal-Mart's health plan and who received a COBRA notice. Bryant wants Wal-Mart to issue proper notices to the proposed class members and pay statutory penalties of $110 to each participant or beneficiary per day that the company allegedly failed to comply with the notice requirements.
The plaintiffs are represented by Luis A. Cabassa and Brandon J. Hill of Wenzel Fenton Cabassa PA and Chad A. Justice of Black Rock Trial Lawyers.
The case is Jamie Bryant v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. case number 1:16-cv-24818, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.