Stafford Emergency Management Coordinator sues city over health plan

By Michael Sudhalter
msudhalter@fortbendstar.com

Jennifer Taylor, the city of Stafford’s Emergency Management Coordinator, is suing her employer and its Human Resources Director Karen Austin in Harris County Civil District Court over the city’s health care plan, citing breach of contract.

“We don’t believe there’s any merit in the lawsuit,” said Stafford City Attorney Art Pertile. “We’ll defend the city and Ms. Austin, and defend those allegations.”

Most of Stafford is located in Fort Bend County, but a portion is located in Harris County as well, and the plaintiffs decided to file the case there.

Taylor, a former police officer for Sugar Land and Fort Bend ISD, has served as Stafford’s Emergency Management Coordinator since 2008.

Taylor was involved in two automobile accidents in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Neither accident happened while she was working. In both instances the other driver was determined to be at fault.

She has taken issue with the fact that the city health insurance policy didn’t provide adequate coverage for her and two of her dependents.

Houston-based attorney Steve Wisch is speaking on behalf of Taylor, who is still employed by the city.

Wisch disputes the legality of Stafford’s health insurance plan, due to an Automobile Limitation in the city’s policy that reads as follows:

“When medical payments are available under vehicle insurance, the Plan shall pay excess benefits only, without reimbursement for vehicle plan Deductibles. This Plan shall always be considered the secondary carrier regardless of the individual’s election under PIP (personal Injury protection) coverage with the auto carrier.”

Wisch did not comment on Taylor’s auto insurance plan, but noted that Taylor “almost went bankrupt” due to the lack of coverage from her health plan.

“They created a limitation so overly broad that it’s an extremely problematic limitation,” Wisch said. “Ms. Taylor is not the only person who has been severely harmed by this health plan and its administration. The structure of this plan should have a big disclaimer on it, like the warning on a box of cigarettes.”

Like Pertile, Leonard Scarcella – Stafford’s Mayor since 1969 – said the city will vigorously defend itself and its HR Director in the litigation. He said the “city goes to great lengths to make sure every city employee is informed about the coverage they have, their options and if they have a claim, how to process their claim.”

Scarcella said this case is the first time he can remember a city employee suing the city and a colleague.

However, he noted that Taylor continues to be an important part of the city staff, and the pending legal action doesn’t change that at all.

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