Employer Given Incomplete Address Meets COBRA Notice Standard

December 18, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – A federal court has ruled that an employer who was given an incomplete address by an employee satisfied its COBRA notice obligation to her.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said that an employer or plan administrator who sends proper notice by first class mail to the employee’s last known address is deemed to be in good faith compliance with COBRA notice requirements. Whether the employee actually received the COBRA notice is not the real issue, the court said.

The address provided by Jacqueline T. Robinson-Reeder on her original health plan enrollment form did not include an apartment number. While she claimed that she filled out the form correctly, and implied the apartment number was whited out after she turned the form in, upon review of the original form, the court found “no markings or other indications that an apartment number or anything else was covered up or otherwise removed from the employee information section,” according to the opinion.

The COBRA notice issue arose out of a discrimination case Robinson-Reeder brought against the American Council on Education (ACE). After complaining that a coworker was difficult, Robinson-Reeder found herself put on probation and therefore resigned. She filed a racial discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Robinson-Reeder subsequently filed a lawsuit, claiming ACE retaliated against her for the EEOC complaint by giving her bad references for jobs and failing to send her COBRA notice. The court sided with ACE on both issues, finding on the first claim that Robinson-Reeder could produce no evidence that anyone at her former employer gave her a bad job reference, other than the fact she had not been offered a job.

The court’s opinion is here.