The judge overseeing the case detailed on this page has dismissed the lawsuit after ruling that the plaintiff failed to establish standing.
More specifically, the plaintiff failed to show that she suffered any injury due to Southwest’s alleged failure to provide timely notice of her COBRA rights, according to U.S. District Judge William F. Jung’s December 14, 2020 order.
While the plaintiff alleges she was fired on May 8, 2019 and received no notice of her COBRA rights until August, the judge notes that the former employee challenged her termination through her labor union’s internal grievance process and was informed by Southwest via letter on May 23, 2019 that her healthcare benefits would remain in effect throughout the grievance process. Thus, the judge wrote, the plaintiff “had no need to enroll in COBRA until at least August 5” when the union rejected her grievance.
The judge notes that these facts make several of the plaintiff’s claims “implausible,” such as her claim that Southwest’s untimely notice caused her to refrain from seeking needed medical care between May and August 2019.
“But why would Plaintiff refrain from seeking medical care during a period when she already had healthcare coverage?” Judge Jung wrote. “As such, it is unclear what economic injury Plaintiff could have suffered here or how Defendant’s untimeliness could have created a material risk of economic harm.”
The judge’s order further notes that while the plaintiff claims to have suffered an informational injury by not receiving COBRA notice until August 6, 2019, records show that Southwest sent her a COBRA notice on May 14, 2019.
“Although Plaintiff now ‘expressly denies’ ever receiving the May Notice, this conclusory statement does not negate written evidence,” the order states, adding that the plaintiff has nevertheless failed to establish “why she needed this information in the first place” since her health coverage benefits continued until at least August 5.
The December 2020 order further argues that the plaintiff’s claims with regard to Southwest failing to include critical information in her COBRA notice also lack standing given they are based on her misreading of the relevant regulation, fail to establish that she suffered any injury, and are not supported by a proper interpretation of the law.
While Judge Jung gave the plaintiff 14 days to file an amended complaint, the parties filed a joint stipulation to dismiss the suit with prejudice on January 4, 2021.
A former Southwest Airlines employee claims in a proposed class action that she was not provided with proper notice of her right to continued health insurance coverage after being terminated.
Filed against the Southwest Airlines Co. Board of Trustees, the 14-page lawsuit out of Florida explains the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) mandates that employers have 44 days after the end of an individual’s employment to provide notice and “essential details” of their right to COBRA insurance coverage.
The plaintiff alleges that Southwest not only failed to send a COBRA notice within 44 days of her May 2019 termination but omitted “critical pieces of information” from the form that ultimately left her “confused and misled.”
The case claims that although Southwest had access to a model COBRA notice issued by the U.S. Department of Labor, the defendant chose to include only certain parts of the model form, presumably as a cost-cutting measure aimed at steering former employees away from electing COBRA coverage. Among the omitted information, the suit alleges, was the date of the plaintiff’s qualifying event, the name of the insurance plan, and the identity of the plan administrator.
Moreover, the plaintiff claims the notice, which she finally received in August 2019, was not written “in a manner calculated to be understood by the average plan participant” as required by law.
As a result of the defendant’s “confusing and incomplete” COBRA form, the plaintiff “did not understand the notice” and was ultimately unable to elect COBRA coverage, the case claims. According to the suit, the plaintiff not only lost health insurance but was forced to forego required medical treatment due to the lack of coverage.
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