Middlebrooks v. Godwin Corporation
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by District Judge Anthony J Trenga on 2/7/2012. (klau, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA
LILLIE M. MIDDLEBROOKS,
In this action, plaintiff Lillie M. Middlebrooks (plaintiff or "Ms. Middlebrooks"),
appearing pro se, claims that following the termination of her employment with defendant
Godwin Corporation ("Godwin"), Godwin did not provide her with notice of her rights with
respect to the continuation of her employer-provided group health care coverage, as required
under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 ("COBRA" or the "Act"),
29 U.S.C. §§ 1166(a)(1) and (4). The Court held a bench trial on January 24,2012, following
which the Court took the case under advisement and now issues its Findings of Fact and
Conclusions of Law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52.
In her forty-four count Amended Complaint, Ms. Middlebrooks claims that Godwin
failed to provide the required COBRA notices when she was hired, in violation of 29 U.S.C. §
1166(a)(1), and also that Godwin provided inadequate COBRA notices when she was
discharged, in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 1166(a)(4). On this basis, she requests under 29 U.S.C. §
1132(c)(1)(A) that the Court award to her the maximum statutory penalty of$110 per day1 for
each omission, pre-judgment interest, costs, expenses, and reasonable attorney's fees, and such
other relief as this Court may deem just and proper.
Godwin disputes that Ms. Middlebrooks is entitled to any relief. As for its obligation to
provide a COBRA notice at the commencement of her employment, Godwin concedes that such
a notice was not provided, but that Godwin otherwise satisfied that requirement under the
applicable regulations when it issued to her, within 90 days of her enrollment into Godwin's
health plan, a COBRA notice in connection with her termination. See 29 C.F.R. § 2590.6061(b)(3). As to its obligation to provide Ms. Middlebrooks a post-termination COBRA notice,
Godwin claims that Ms. Middlebrooks was discharged for reasons that constitute "gross
misconduct," and for that reason her termination did not constitute a "qualifying event" that
triggered an obligation to provide the post-termination notice otherwise required. See 29 U.S.C.
§ 1163(2). Alternatively, Godwin contends that even if it were obligated to send Ms.
Middlebrooks a post-termination COBRA notice, it did send such a notice; however, Godwin
also admits that the COBRA notice it sent did not contain all of the information required under
the applicable regulations. Nevertheless, Godwin claims that it attempted in good faith to
comply with COBRA, the COBRA notice it did send contained all of the material information
that Ms. Middlebrooks needed to make an informed judgment about whether and how to
continue her employer-provided coverage, and Ms. Middlebrooks has not demonstrated any
prejudice because of the omitted information. For these reasons, among others, Godwin requests
1A Department ofLabor regulation has increased to $110 the $100 penalty stated in 29 U.S.C. §
1132(c)(1). See 29 C.F.R. § 2575.502c-1.
that the Court exercise its discretion under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c)(1)(A) and impose no penalties
for the defects in its notice.
Based on the Findings of Fact and the Conclusions of Law set forth herein, the Court
finds and concludes that (1) Godwin satisfied its obligation to provide a COBRA notice at the
beginning of Ms. Middlebrooks's employment when it issued its post-termination COBRA
notice dated November 18,2008, its admitted deficiencies notwithstanding; (2) Ms.
Middlebrooks established that her termination was for reasons other than gross misconduct and
Godwin was therefore required to provide to her a compliant post-termination COBRA notice;
(3) Godwin failed to provide a fully compliant notice to Ms. Middlebrooks; and (4) an award of
$500 to Ms. Middlebrooks is appropriate.
Findings of Fact
1. Godwin Corporation is a company with 20 or more employees that provides, among other
services, professional healthcare staffing to the federal government.
At all material times herein, Godwin hired registered nurses and other support persons
for a program entitled "Healthy Start," administered by the District of Columbia, which provided
in-home visits to pregnant and postpartum women with health issues during and after pregnancy
(the "Healthy Start Program").
3. On or around July 29, 2008, Godwin offered and Ms. Middlebrooks accepted a full-time
position to work for Godwin as a registered nurse in connection with the Healthy Start Program,
beginning on August 1,2008. Ms. Middlebrooks was in fact assigned to the Healthy Start
Program; and her duties included the supervision of two assistants, known as Family Support
Workers, also employed by Godwin, who provided support services as part of a three-person
team led by Ms. Middlebrooks.
4. At all material times herein, Godwin served as the plan administrator for a group health
plan, number UN85, titled CareFirst Blue Choice HMO, and also for a group dental health plan,
number 665460, titled Humana Dental Insurance.
5. On September 1,2008,30 days after her employment began, Ms. Middlebrooks was
enrolled in Godwin's employer-sponsored health plans. She did not receive a COBRA notice
when she started work or when her coverage became effective.
6. Ms. Middlebrooks's supervisor at Godwin was Janice Williams ("Ms. Williams") and her
supervisor at the Healthy Start Program was Karen Watts ("Ms. Watts"), who was employed by
the District of Columbia.
7. As part of her initial orientation for the Healthy Start Program, Ms. Middlebrooks was
apprised of the program's protocols. Specifically, Ms. Middlebrooks was told that if she was
unable to make contact with a potential client of the Healthy Start Program after three attempts,
she was to remove that client from her client list and not make further attempts.
8. From the onset of her employment, Ms. Middlebrooks had a difficult working
relationship with her team members, prompting meetings with Ms. Watts. After Ms.
Middlebrooks expressed her concerns about the three-contact rule, Ms. Watts met with Ms.
Middlebrooks to discuss and reiterate the importance of complying with that protocol because if
the protocol was not followed, the program's funding could be jeopardized. Nevertheless, Ms.
Middlebrooks insisted on continuing to contact potential clients after making three unsuccessful
attempts to do so.
9. On October 30, 2008, Ms. Watts requested, through Ms. Williams, that Godwin remove
Ms. Middlebrooks from the Healthy Start Program, which Godwin did that same day, together
with terminating her employment with Godwin.
10. By letter dated November 18,2008, captioned "Cobra Letter," a copy of which was
admitted as Plaintiffs Exhibit 10, Godwin advised Ms. Middlebrooks of her COBRA rights to
continue her group health coverage at her own expense (the "COBRA Notice"). Briefly
summarized, the COBRA Notice advised Ms. Middlebrooks that she was no longer eligible to be
covered under Godwin's healthcare plan as of October 31,2008; but that pursuant to COBRA,
she had the option to continue her healthcare benefits for both herself and her dependents for up
to 18 months by paying the full premium. The COBRA Notice listed the Qualifying Event as
"Termination of Employment"; the Event Date as "Oct 30 2008"; the Health Coverage Premium
start date as "Nov 1 2008"; and the Total Monthly Premium as "$307.64," which was described
as including a 2% service charge. It also advised her that if she elected the COBRA coverage,
she would continue to receive coverage until certain events occurred, such as becoming
employed and covered under another group health care plan, failing to pay the premiums, or any
dependents passing the maximum coverage age. The COBRA notice further advised (incorrectly
as will be discussed) that she had until December 1,2008, about 32 days after her discharge
(rather than, as COBRA requires, on a date no less than 60 days from the date of termination), to
notify Godwin of her intentions. It also stated incorrectly that the maximum 18-monthcoverage
period would expire on the already-passed date of April 30, 2008. rather than the correct date of
April 30,2010. The letter provided two election spaces, one for electing coverage and one for
declining coverage. A facsimile number and a self-addressed, stamped return envelope were
also provided. Finally, the COBRA notice provided contact information if she had any
11. Godwin concedes that the following information was not provided in the COBRA Notice
issued to Ms. Middlebrooks:
An explanation of the consequences of failing to elect or waivingcontinuation
coverage, relating to Count 9 of the Amended Complaint. See 29 C.F.R. § 2590.6064(b)(4)(vi).
A description of the qualified beneficiaries' grace periods for payment and the
consequences of delayed payment and non-payment, relating to Count 21 of the
Amended Complaint. See 29 C.F.R. § 2590.606-4(b)(4)(xii).
An explanation of the importance of keeping the administrator informed of the
current addresses of all participants or beneficiaries under the plan who are or may
become qualified beneficiaries, relating to Count 27. See 29 C.F.R. § 2590.6064(b)(4)(xiii).
A notice that the employee has 60 days to make an election to enroll in COBRA,
relating to Count 28. See 29 U.S.C. § 1165(a)(1).
The correct date on which the 18-month maximum coverage period would expire,
relating to Count 30. See 29 U.S.C. § 1162(2)(A)(i); 29 C.F.R. § 2590-606-
The name of the plan under which continuation coverage is available, relating to
Count 34. See 29 C.F.R. § 2590.606-4(b)(4)(i).
Ms. Middlebrooks made no effort to exercise her COBRA rights following her
termination or the receipt of the COBRA notice sent by Godwin. She did not return the COBRA
notice or otherwise make an election. She never attempted to contact or to communicate with
Godwin about the COBRA notice or her COBRA coverage. She never raised any issues with
Godwin about the adequacy of the COBRA Notice until she filed this lawsuit on November, 18
2010, which she served on Godwin on March 15, 2011.
Ms. Middlebrooks has not demonstrated any prejudice as a result of any of the
deficiencies in her COBRA Notice. She was generally aware of her COBRA rights, as she had
2However, inresponse to Godwin's Motion for Judgment on Partial Findings, the Court held
that Godwin complied with the COBRA requirement to notify Ms. Middlebrooks that she was
eligible for up to 18 months of coverage, notwithstanding the scrivener's error in listing April
2008 as the cut-off date for the 18-month COBRA coverage period.
exercised them with a previous employer, and in fact was receiving COBRAcoverage at the time
she was hired by Godwin. At the time she was employed by Godwin and during the period
following her termination, Ms. Middlebrooks did not have a spouse or dependents that would
also have been covered had she elected COBRA coverage. On May 1, 2009, Ms. Middlebrooks
started a new job that provided employer-sponsored health coverage. She also did not establish
that she incurred any uninsured medical expenses or had medical care needs after her termination
and before she was employed and covered under a new employer's health plan beginning on
Based on the applicable legal standard, as discussed infra, Ms. Middlebrooks
established that she was terminated for reasons other than gross misconduct.
At all material times herein, Godwin acted in good faith in connection with
satisfying its COBRA obligations to Ms. Middlebrooks.
II. Conclusions of Law
1. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
2. Venue is proper in this Court pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(2).
3. At all material times herein, Godwin was subject to the requirements of COBRA.
4. Ms. Middlebrooks's termination was a "qualifying event" that triggered her
entitlement to a post-termination COBRA notice.
3In her Amended Complaint, Ms. Middlebrooks does allege that she experienced "financial
injury, humiliation, emotional distress, weight loss, hair loss, mental anguish and suffering"; and
at trial, Ms. Middlebrooks stated that she did have medical care needs and expenses.
Nevertheless, she refused to provide any information concerning these claims during discovery,
including refusing to answer any questions about those contentions at her deposition, which
ended when she walked out after refusing to answer certain questions. Based on these events,
the Court issued a pretrial order precluding her from making such claims at trial. See Order dated
January 13, 2012 [Doc. No. 122].
In order for Ms. Middlebrooks's termination to constitute a "qualifying event," she was
required to establish that her termination was for reasons other than "gross misconduct." 29
U.S.C. § 1163(2). There is no definition of what constitutes "gross misconduct" in either the
COBRA statute or the applicable regulations, and courts have diverged significantly as to what
rises to that level. Some courts have provided a standard by which conduct can be judged. See
Zickafoose v. UB Servs., Inc., 23 F. Supp. 2d 652, 655 (S.D.W. Va. 1998) ("[C]onduct is gross
misconduct if it is so outrageous that it shocks the conscience."); Collins v. Aggreko, Inc., 884 F.
Supp. 450,454 (D. Utah 1995) ("Gross misconduct may be intentional, wanton, willful,
deliberate, reckless or in deliberate indifference to an employer's interest. It is misconduct
beyond mere minor breaches of employee standards, but conduct that would be considered gross
in nature."); Paris v. F. Korbel & Bros., Inc., 751 F. Supp. 834, 838 (N.D. Cal. 1990) (defining
gross misconduct as "conduct evincing such willful or wanton disregard of an employer's
interests as is found in deliberate violation or disregard of standards of behavior which the
employer has the right to expect of his employee, or in carelessness or negligence of such a
degree or recurrence as to manifest equal culpability, wrongful intent, or evil design, or to show
an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer's interests or the employee[']s duties and
obligations to his employer."). Othercourts merely evaluate the conduct at issue by analogizing
it to, or distinguishing it from, conduct in other cases. See, e.g., Moore v. Williams College, 702
F. Supp. 2d 19,24 (D. Mass 2010); Nero v. Univ. Hosp. Mgmt. Servs. Org, 1:04-CV-1833,2006
WL 2933957, at *4 (N.D. Ohio October 12,2006).
Here, the evidence established that Ms. Middlebrooks was discharged, at the requestof
the District of Columbia, because she disobeyed a directive that she not contact further certain
persons who had signed up for the services of Ms. Middlebrooks's team, but who could not be
contacted after three attempts. At the time of her discharge, she was not charged with gross
misconduct, even though Godwin had a gross misconduct policy, and there was no claim by
Godwin at the time of her discharge that it was gross misconduct. While the lack of evidence in
that regard does not preclude Godwin from now claiming that Ms. Middlebrooks failed to
establish at trial that her discharge was for reasons other than gross misconduct, it is probative of
how the conduct was seen at the time by Godwin. Moreover, there is no evidence of fraud, theft,
deceit, misrepresentation, violence or intimidation, or other criminal or quasi-criminal conduct
by Ms. Middlebrooks. Nor was there evidence of any prolonged or repeated periods of
insubordination or any financial harm to the interests of either Godwin or the District of
Columbia. At most, there was evidence that Ms. Middlebrooks was difficult to work with and
that she was insistent on providing services to people who no longer qualified for services. Her
conduct, as a whole, is easily distinguishable from those cases where gross misconduct was
found. See Williams College, 702 F. Supp. 2d at 24 (summarizing instances where courts have
found gross misconduct). In any event, and without formulating a precise definition of gross
misconduct, the Court concludes that "gross misconduct" requires conduct substantially beyond
mere negligence, carelessness, or obstinacy; and that Ms. Middlebrooks's conduct lacked
sufficient indicia of willfulness, wantonness, outrageousness, recklessness, intention or
deliberate indifference to constitute gross misconduct.4 For these reasons, the Court finds and
4Godwin asks the Court to adopt the rather broad standard set forth in Bryant v. Food Lion Inc.,
where the court viewed gross conduct as "carelessnessor negligence of such a degree or
recurrence as ... to show an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer's interests or
the employee[']s duties and obligations to his employer." 100 F. Supp. 2d 346,376 (D.S.C.
2000). To the extent that Ms. Middlebrooks's conduct would be deemed gross misconduct under
the Bryant standard, the Court finds that standard too encompassing for the purposes of
determining whether terminated workers are excluded from COBRA protections, particularly in
light of the legislative objectives and purpose behind COBRA.
concludes that Ms. Middlebrooks established a qualifying event that entitled her to receive
COBRA Notices following her discharge from Godwin on October 30, 2008.
5. Ms. Middlebrooks was entitled to receive both a commencement notice and a posttermination notice.
COBRA requires a group health plan to provide an employee notice of his or her rights
when (1) coverage under a group health plan commences ("commencement notices") and (2) a
"qualifying event" occurs ("post-termination notices"). 29 U.S.C. §§ 1166(a)(1) and (4). An
employer has 90 days from the time the health plan begins to provide the commencement notices
in satisfaction of § 1166(a)(1). 29 C.F.R. § 2590.606-l(b)(l)(i).
6. Godwin satisfied its obligation to provide a commencement notice.
The applicable regulations provide that if a qualifying event occurs before the end of the
90-day period within which a commencement notice must be given, the notice provided pursuant
to that qualifying event will simultaneously satisfy the requirement to provide commencement
notices. 29 C.F.R. § 2590-606-1 (b)(3). In other words, if an employee is discharged within 90
days of her enrollment in a health plan, the post-termination notice also satisfies the requirement
to provide a commencement notice.5
The Court first considers Godwin's position that it was relieved of the duty to provide a
commencement notice because it provided a post-termination notice. Here, Godwin provided a
5In its Order dated July 14,2011 [Doc. No. 46], the Court denied Godwin's Motion to Dismiss
with respect to the failure to issue a commencement notice. In making that ruling, based solely
on the allegations of the Complaint, accepted as true for the purposes of that motion, the Court
did not consider, as it now does following a trial on the merits, whether the plaintiff in fact
received a COBRA termination notice, something the plaintiffappeared to have denied in her
Amended Complaint. In ruling on that motion, the Court also did not address whether, because
ofits deficiencies, the termination notice satisfied the commencement notice requirement. With
a more complete record, the Court is now in a position to make such rulings.
post-termination notice within 90 days of Ms. Middlebrooks's enrollmentin Godwin's health
plan. The only issue is whetherthe admitted deficiencies in that post-termination notice
somehowprecludethat notice from also satisfyingthe commencement notice requirement.
The applicable regulations contemplate that when a qualifying event occurs within 90
days of an employee's enrollment in a company's health plan, that person will in fact receive
only one notice. The Court therefore concludes that the post-termination notice satisfied the
commencement notice requirement; and that if the post-termination notice omitted any required
information, Godwin still can be charged with only one violation, rather than two separate
violations.6 For these reasons, the Court concludes that there is no liability based onthe
commencement notice requirements.
7. Godwin's post-termination notice was deficient.
As stated supra, Godwin concedes that its post-termination COBRA Notice was deficient
in the following ways:
Godwin failed to provide an explanation of the consequences of failing to elect or
waiving continuation coverage. See 29 C.F.R. § 2590.606-4(b)(4)(vi).
Godwin failed to provide a description of the qualified beneficiaries' grace periods
for payment and the consequences of delayed payment and non-payment. See 29
C.F.R. § 2590.606-4(b)(4)(xii).
Godwin failed to provide an explanation of the importance of keeping the
administrator informed of the current addresses of all participants or beneficiaries
under the plan who are or may become qualified beneficiaries. See 29 C.F.R. §
Godwin failed to provide notice that the election period was open for 60 days. See 29
U.S.C. § 1165(a)(1).
The Court is unaware of any case that has dealt with this discrete issue.
The date on which the maximum period of COBRA coverage would expire was
incorrectly stated. See 29 U.S.C. § 1162(2)(A)(i); 29 C.F.R. § 2590-606-4(b)(4)(viii).
Godwin failed to provide the name of the plan under which continuation coverage is
available. See 29 C.F.R. § 2590.606-4(b)(4)(i).
The Court has also reviewed Ms. Middlebrooks's claims relating to other alleged deficiencies in
her post-termination notice and concludes that there are no other deficiencies pertaining to the
post-termination notice. In this regard, Ms. Middlebrooks was not entitled, as she alleged, to a
COBRA Notice as to her dental plan7 or tohave included inher COBRA Notice information
required under the American Recover and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was enacted on
February 17,2009, several months after her termination.
8. A failure to provide more than one piece of required information in the COBRA
Notice only supports a single penalty.
This Court has previously ruled that "any particular failure to provide an adequate
[commencement notice] or [post-termination notice] will only support a single penalty pursuant
to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c)(1),regardless of the number of counts in which that failure is alleged."
7COBRA requires coverage and notices for a "group health plan." 29 U.S.C. § 1161(a). "Group
health plan" is defined as "an employee welfare benefit plan providing medical care (as defined
in section213(d) of Title 26)." 29 U.S.C. § 1167(a). "Medical care" is defined as "amounts paid
... for the diagnosis cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or for the purpose of
affecting any structure or function of the body." 26 U.S.C. § 213(d)(1)(A). This broad definition
appears to include dental insurance; indeed, § 213 is titled "Medical, dental, etc., expenses."
However, under the applicable regulations, COBRA's requirements do not apply to "limitedscope dental benefits" where those benefits are part of a "separate policy," among other
situations. See 29 C.F.R. § 2590.732(c)(3)(iii)(A) ("Limited-scope dental benefits" are defined as
"benefits substantially all of which are for treatment of the mouth."). The Amended Complaint
alleges a dental plan that appears to be a separate plan with a separate plan number; and Ms.
Middlebrooks presented no evidence that would subject Godwin's dental plan to the COBRA
notice requirements. The Court will therefore dismiss her claims as they relate to Godwin's
8See American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of2009, Pub. L. No. 111-5,123 Stat. 115
[Doc. No. 46, p. 4]. See 29U.S.C. § 1132(c)(1) (any administrator "who fails to meet the
requirements of [29 U.S.C. §§ 1166(a)(1) or (4)] with respect to a participant or beneficiary...
may in the court's discretion be personally liable to such participant or beneficiary in the amount
of $100 a day from the date ofsuchfailure
"). Here, Ms. Middlebrooks alleges in 44
separate countsvarious pieces of information that she contends COBRA requires and Godwin
failed to provide. Nevertheless, because all the alleged (and actual) deficiencies relateto only
one required notice, the Court will consider the appropriate amount of only a single penalty with
respect to that one notice.
9. A penalty in the amount of $500 is appropriate.
The Act gives this Court the discretion to determine the amount, if any, that a violation
warrants. 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c)(1). In that regard, the purpose of penalties under § 1132(c)(1) is
"not to compensate the participants for injuries, but to punish non-compliance with ERISA."
Faircloth v. Lundy Packing Co., 91 F.3d 648,659 (4th Cir. 1996) (citing Daughtrey v.
Honeywell, Inc., 3 F.3d 1488, 1494 (11th Cir. 1993)). While prejudice to a party is not a
prerequisiteto establishing liability, "prejudice is a factor a district court may consider in
deciding whether to impose a penalty." Id. (citing Moothart v. Bell, 21 F.3d 1499, 1506 (10th
Cir. 1994)). "The district court may also consider whether the administrator acted in bad faith."
Id. (citing Rodriguez-Abreu v. ChaseManhattan Bank, N.A., 986 F.2d 580,588 (1st Cir. 1993)).
In considering whether and to what extent to award a penalty in this case, the Court notes
that this case differs fundamentally from those cases where awards have been made based on a
steadfast refusal to provide required documents or information. See Faircloth, 91 F.3d at 659
(affirming an award to each plaintiff of $2,500 where the defendant failed to provide requested
documents for nearly two years, even though defendant did not act in bad faith); Brooks v.
Metrica, Inc., 1 F. Supp. 2d 559, 569 (E.D. Va. 1998) (awarding $80 a day for a total $14,320
basedon employer's outright refusal to comply with the employee's request for 179days and
because (1) the employer's "conduct fell far short of what must be expected of a plan
administrator and its agents in responding to participants' questions and complaints"; (2) the
employer's unreasonable litigation conduct in refusing to settle the matter; and (3) the "cavalier
attitude" the employer displayed in response to the requests, although it did not rise to the level
of bad faith). See also Jackson v. Coyne & Delany Co., No. 3:04-CV-00005,2004 WL 1381157,
*3 (W.D. Va. June 18,2004) (awarding statutory penalties of $25 per day, a total of $2,325, and
attorney's fees of $5,058.03 for an administrator's failure to comply with a request for
documents). Here, Godwin never ignored a request for documents or information; and the notice
deficiencies were not brought to Godwin's attention until Ms. Middlebrooks sued Godwin more
than two years after it had sent the COBRA Notice to her. It is clear that Godwin is not a
company that was attempting to avoid its COBRA obligations; and the Court notes that, unlike
the defendant in Brooks, Godwin did not engage in any "unreasonable litigation conduct." In
fact, Godwin made good faith efforts to settle the case before trial.
Further, there is no evidence that Ms. Middlebrooks experienced any actual harm as a
result of Godwin's inadequate notices. She had elected COBRA coverage after leaving previous
employment, and was aware of COBRA'S protections for the unemployed. She also started a
new job on May 1, 2009, five months after her discharge, and received health insurance in
connection with that job. The Court has considered Ms. Middlebrooks's claim that she was
misled by the incorrect deadline of December 1,2008 to elect coverage; but while she did not
receive notice of her right to elect coverage within a 60-day election period, she never inquired
about her coverage and, again, demonstrated no prejudice. In short, there is no employer bad
faith or employee prejudice, and in similarcircumstances some courts have declined to impose
penalties altogether. SeeBouche v. Williams, 13 F. Supp. 2d 84, 105 (D. Me. 1998); Burgess v.
Adams Tool& Eng'g, Inc., 908 F. Supp. 473,478-79 (W.D. Mich. 1995).
The Court has considered all the facts and circumstances pertaining to the proven
deficiencies in the COBRA Notice. While many considerations weigh in Godwin's favor with
respect to whetheror not a penalty should be imposed, the Court finds significantthat the
deficient scope of information provided in the COBRA Notice was based on Godwin's standard
COBRA notice at the time (although that standard notice has been substantially revised since);9
and the multiple deficiencies in the COBRA Notice, especially the incorrect deadline for electing
COBRA coverage, did have the potential to harm and mislead terminated employees, although
there is no evidence that it did. Given that the purpose of the penalty is "to punish non
compliance with ERISA," the Court finds that a penalty is appropriately assessed against
Godwin and the Court will award Ms. Middlebrooks $500, which the Court concludes is
sufficient to address Godwin's non-compliance.
The Court finds that Ms. Middlebrooks was discharged for reasons other than gross
misconduct and was therefore entitled to a post-termination notice. Godwin's post termination
notice was deficient, and the Court, after considering all the facts and circumstances of this case,
awards $500 to Ms. Middlebrooks.
9Godwin's revised standard COBRA notice was admitted into evidence at trial and, without
ruling on the sufficiency of that notice, it appears to provide the type of required information
omitted from Ms. Middlebrooks's COBRA Notice. Although Godwin adopted its revised notice
in late 2010, there is no evidence that Godwin was prompted to revise its notice because of or
after it learned of this litigation.
The Court will issue an appropriate order.
Anthony j . Trenga
United States District Judge
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