A Kentucky man with an anxiety disorder has asked his former employer not to celebrate his birthday because it triggers panic attacks.
When the company, Gravity Diagnostics, ignored Kevin Berling’s request and threw him a surprise lunchtime party on August 7, 2019, he got upset. Days later, Berling was fired, according to a lawsuit he filed in Kenton County court against the company.
On March 31, a jury awarded him $450,000. The jury found that Berling suffered “adverse employment action” because of his anxiety disorder, according to court documents.
The saga began in August 2019 when Berling told his office manager he didn’t want to celebrate his birthday because it would trigger a panic attack. The company has a history of hosting office birthday parties for employees, the lawsuit, filed in 2019, says.
However, on his birthday, the company surprised him with a party in the dining room. Berling had a panic attack, the suit says. He quickly left and finished the rest of his lunch in his car, then texted his manager for not responding to his request.
A day after the celebration, Berling was called to a meeting where he “was confronted and criticized” for his reaction, according to the lawsuit.
“This confrontation triggered another panic attack,” the lawsuit states. “At the end of this meeting and because the plaintiff had a panic attack, the plaintiff was released from work for the remainder of August 8 and 9.”
On August 11 of that year, he received a letter saying he was fired “due to the events of the previous week,” the lawsuit says.
Berling sued for disability discrimination and retaliation.
Gravity Diagnostics did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.
Founder and COO Julie Brazil said NKY Link that Berling was fired for violating a “workplace violence policy” and they stand by their decision.
She also noted an increase in incidents of workplace violence, telling the station, “My employees defused the situation to get the complainant out of the building as quickly as possible while removing his access to the building, alerting me and sending security reminders to ensure he couldn’t access the building, which is exactly what they were supposed to do.”
Tony Bucher, an attorney for Berling, said his client posed no threat.
“I think the importance for employers is that they need to understand that they shouldn’t make assumptions about people with mental health issues. Kevin was an exceptional employee who went above and beyond to his employer and if they would have taken a step back would have been clear that he posed no danger,” he said in a statement.