A Kentucky man was awarded $450,000 in a lawsuit against his former employer, after the company disregarded his wish not to be given a birthday party.
In August 2019, Gravity Diagnostics, a medical laboratory, ignored Kevin Berling’s request not to celebrate his birthday due to his anxiety disorder.
According to Tony Bucher, Berling’s attorney, Berling spoke to the birthday celebration organizer about his request not to have a party, but “the person who was responsible for the birthday parties who he talked to flat-out forgot about his request”.
As a result, the company hosted the celebration, at which Berling suffered a panic attack.
According to Bucher, Berling went to his car, practiced breathing techniques, ate his lunch and then texted his manager, upset his request had been ignored.
The person who scheduled the party, Berling said, “didn’t do it to be mean. She said she would accommodate [Berling’s request] and she just forgot.”
The next day, according to Berling’s lawsuit, Berling was “confronted and criticized” for his reaction.
“According to my client, [his managers] started reading him the riot act and accused him of stealing other co-workers’ joy,” Bucher told Link NKY.
According to the lawsuit, “this confrontation triggered another panic attack”.
Amid this attack, Bucher said, co-workers asked Berling to stop using coping mechanisms including “hugging himself”. When he did not, the staff members walked out.
Bucher said: “The way [they] say it, they believed he was enraged and possibly about to get violent.”
Berling’s lawsuit said: “At the conclusion of this meeting and because plaintiff had a panic attack, plaintiff was sent home from work for the remainder of 8 and 9 August.”
Berling apologized for having a panic attack. But, his lawsuit said, three days later he received an email from the company, “informing him that he was being terminated because of the events of the previous week”.
According to court documents, a jury awarded Berling $450,000, including “$120,000 in lost wages and benefits; $30,000 in future lost wages and benefits; and $300,000 for past, present and future mental pain and suffering, mental anguish, embarrassment, humiliation, mortification and loss of self-esteem”.
In a statement, Kenton circuit court judge Patricia Summe said Berling “was able to perform the essential functions of his job with or without reasonable accommodations” but “suffered an adverse employment action because of that disability”.
Julie Brazil, chief operating officer of Gravity Diagnostics, said the verdict set a dangerous precedent for employers and employees that unless physical violence happens, any other form of workplace violence is permissible.
“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.”
Brazil indicated that the company would appeal.