Court Rejects COBRA Violation Conclusion for Fired Employee

November 21, 2006 ( - The US District Court for the Western District of Louisiana has denied a former employee's motion for summary judgment on her claim that the actions for which her employer fired her did not constitute gross misconduct and therefore she was due notice about her continuing health coverage rights.

Pointing out that there are no regulations, including the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA ) statute that define gross misconduct, the court turned to federal case law that applied the gross misconduct standard. According to the opinion, the defendants offered evidence that supported their claim that Anna Boudreaux’s improper use of prescription medications rendered her unable to properly and safely perform her job duties.

Additionally, the court concluded that Boudreaux’s medication misuse was done deliberately in violation of the employer’s standards of conduct for employees and with such a degree of carelessness or negligence as to show intent to cause injury to her employer or coworkers, and therefore fell within the definition of gross misconduct as provided by previous court decisions.

Boudreaux worked as assistant kitchen manager for Rice Palace, Inc., a restaurant and gaming facility, and was covered under a group health plan sponsored by Rice Palace’s sister company, Shop Rite, Inc. After experiencing disorientation, slurring of speech, dizziness and other physical conditions at work, Boudreaux was demoted to dishwasher due to her inability to safely and properly perform her kitchen duties.

After a period of 30 days of satisfactory work with no appearance of being under the influence, Boudreaux was promoted to a position of cooking and food preparation. She was warned she would be fired if she ever again reported to work in an impaired state. When she did so, she was fired.

Boudreaux sued Rice Palace and Shop Rite, claiming her employer had no evidence from which to characterize its reasons for firing her as gross misconduct. She claimed she was entitled to COBRA notice and benefits and the defendants violated COBRA by not providing her notice of her rights to continued health coverage.

In denying Boudreaux’s motion for summary judgment in her favor, the court said she did not provide evidence that there was no issue of material fact that could lead a reasonable person to find in favor of the defendants. The court also said it was considering granting summary judgment to the defendants based on the evidence.

The case is Boudreaux v. Rice Palace, Inc. et al.