Fired Worker Gets COBRA Victory

October 22, 2004 ( - A Massachusetts federal judge has ordered an employer to offer a fired employee the chance to choose continuing health care coverage and awarded the worker $15,000 in lawyer fees and costs.

>The judge ruled that the plaintiff’s circumstances of getting fired after removing certain items from the office to the new home of the company president – at the president’s direction – did not qualify for exemptions to the federal continuing health-care coverage requirement under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), EBIA reported.

>The employee sued the employer, claiming that he had been improperly denied COBRA coverage; the employer justified its denial on the basis that the employee was terminated for gross misconduct. Other company managers had later demanded to know the whereabouts of the items the employee had moved to the president’s home and eventually fired the plaintiff for stealing.

>Noting that an employer need not offer a covered employee and his or her covered dependents COBRA if the employee is fired for gross misconduct, the court said the current case didn’t fall under that category. According to the court, the conduct must be willful, intentional, flagrant, extreme, out of all measure, beyond allowance, shameful, and so outrageous as to shock the conscience.

>Using this standard, the judge found for the employee had followed the explicit directions of his boss and may have been caught in a power struggle between members of the company’s management.

>The case is Richard v. Indus. Commercial Elec. Corp., 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20024 (D. Mass. 2004).