A Kentucky man won a lawsuit filed against his employer after being thrown a birthday party surprise at work despite his request not to have one due to his panic attack.
Gravity Diagnostics employee Kevin Berling requested in August of 2019 that he did not want the company to throw him a birthday party because he said that “being the center of attention” would trigger his anxiety disorder and cause him to have a panic attack, something 18 percent of the American population deal with.
However, despite his request on August 7, the company threw him a surprise birthday party, which he found out about on his way to lunch, and he got upset. Days later Berling was fired, according to a lawsuit he filed in a Kenton County court against the company.
His attorney, Tony Bucher, said, “The person who was responsible for the birthday parties who he talked to flat out forgot about his request. She didn’t do it to be mean. She said she would accommodate it and she just forgot.”
Berling met with the office manager the following day, and Bucher said, “According to [Berling], she started reading him the riot act and accused him of stealing other coworkers’ joy.”
“At this point, he starts employing other coping techniques that he’s worked on for years with his therapist,” Bucher said. “The way he described it is he started hugging himself and asked them to please stop.”
On Aug. 11 of that year, he was sent a letter telling him that he was being terminated “because of the events of the previous week,” the lawsuit reads.
According to the Newsweek report:
Berling sued Gravity Diagnostics for disability discrimination and retaliation, saying that the company inadequately accommodated his anxiety disorder. The birthday party, he said, caused him “to suffer from a loss of income and benefits and emotional distress and mental anxiety.”
The rewards totaled $450,000 in damages and included $300,000 for emotional distress and $150,000 for lost wages.
“More than the financial award, I believe that my client was so happy and relieved that the jury recognized that he was not some violent and menacing person,” Bucher said to Newsweek, “and that it was not okay for Gravity Diagnostics to just assume that he was without any evidence to support those misconceptions.”
Link NKY reported that Gravity Diagnostics founder and COO Julie Brazil said they plan on challenging the verdict.
“My employees deescalated the situation to get the plaintiff out of the building as quickly as possible while removing his access to the building, alerting me and sending out security reminders to ensure he could not access the building, which is exactly what they were supposed to do,” Brazil said.
“As an employer who puts our employee safety first, we have a zero-tolerance policy and we stand by our decision to terminate the plaintiff for his violation of our workplace violence policy,” Brazil told Link NKY. “My employees were the victims in this case, not the plaintiff.”