Houston company faces class-action COBRA lawsuit

A former employee of Brunel Energy Inc. is suing the company for failing to notify her of her right to maintain her health insurance coverage after she quit in 2010—and she has proposed making the case a class-action lawsuit that could involve hundreds of other former employees.

Tamara Slipchenko alleges that Houston-based Brunel Energy—which provides staffing services for the oil and natural gas industry—never informed her that the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Recon­ciliation Act (COBRA) allowed her to continue buying health insurance under the company’s plan following termination. That became a real problem for Slipchenko when she developed Hodgkin’s lymphoma several months after her employment with Brunel Energy ended.

Although Brunel Energy supplies specialized personnel to oil and gas companies, the workers are considered employees of Brunel Energy and are eligible to participate in its employee benefit plans.

Following Slipchenko’s initial complaint, the U.S. Department of Labor ordered Brunel Energy to provide her with COBRA benefits. However, according to Slipchenko’s lawsuit, the company never contacted her about her COBRA rights.

She suspects that other former employees found themselves in the same boat. That’s why she says she is seeking to represent a class of all Brunel Energy employees who allegedly were denied a right to COBRA benefits.

Her suit also alleges that Brunel Energy failed to provide COBRA insurance premium subsidies enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, otherwise known as the stimulus bill.

She is seeking a court order that would require the company, which employs approximately 4,000 workers, to allow former employees to elect COBRA continuation coverage from the company’s health plan at the ARRA reduced rate retroactive to their eligibility date.

Slipchenko’s lawsuit also asks the court to order Brunel Energy to reimburse all class members for any medical expenses or insurance premiums that would otherwise have been covered following the termination of their employment.