Marriott Worker Wins Class Status in Health Plan Notice Lawsuit

Employee Benefits News examines legal developments that impact the employee benefits and executive compensation employers provide, including federal and state legislation, rules from federal...

By Carmen Castro-Pagan

A former Marriott International Inc. housekeeper won class status in her lawsuit accusing the hotel chain of violating federal benefits law by providing deficient notices of continued health-care coverage.

The worker, who filed the lawsuit a year ago, will represent more than 15,000 individuals who were sent the notices and elected not to continue coverage. One of her main claims is that the international hotel chain failed to provide her the notice of continued health-care coverage in Spanish.

Employers with 20 or more workers are required under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act to offer workers the option to continue their health-care benefits after employment termination. These notices need to comply with certain language requirements. Employers that fail to comply with COBRA may face penalties of up to $110 per day for each individual who is sent a defective notice.

A number of companies have been targeted in recent years with lawsuits challenging their failure to provide adequate notices. Last month, Capgemini North America agreed to pay $990,000 to settle similar claims. Real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield reach a $390,000 deal to end a challenge over its failure to provide adequate COBRA notices to its workers. SunTrust Banks also settled COBRA notice claims for $290,000. Last year, American Bottling Co. and BB&T Co. settled similar accusations for undisclosed amounts.

Judge Mary S. Scriven of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida held Aug. 7 that the former Marriott employee met all the requirements to proceed with her claims on behalf of a class.

In addition to accusing Marriott of not providing the notice in Spanish, the worker alleged the notice she received didn’t adequately explain the procedures to elect health-care coverage, identify the plan’s administrator, or have easy-to-understand language.

Scriven rejected Marriott’s argument that the worker’s claims weren’t typical because she couldn’t understand English and couldn’t understand the notice once she had it translated, didn’t use computers, and couldn’t afford COBRA continuation coverage. Whether a COBRA notice provides adequate information isn’t based on an individual’s understanding of the notice but rather an objective determination of whether it complies with the law, Scriven said.

Wenzel Fenton Cabassa PA and Black Rock Trial Lawyers represent the worker. DLA Piper US LLP represents Marriott.

The case is Vazquez v. Marriott Int’l, Inc., M.D. Fla., No. 8:17-cv-00116-MSS-SPF, order granting plaintiff’s motion for class certification 8/7/18.

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