Employer

The man told the employer not to celebrate his birthday. He received $450,000 after an unwanted party.

A Kentucky man with an anxiety disorder asked his employer not to celebrate his birthday because it would trigger a panic attack.

When the company, Gravity Diagnostics, ignored Kevin Berling’s request and held a surprise lunchtime celebration for him on August 7, 2019, he got upset and, a few days later, Berling was fired, according to a lawsuit he filed against the company in a Kenton. County court.

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, says the lawsuit, which was filed in 2019.

However, the company surprised him on his birthday 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, upset that the company hadn’t responded 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, he received a letter saying he was terminated “due to the events of the previous week,” the lawsuit says.

Berling sued, alleging disability discrimination and retaliation.

Gravity Diagnostics did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

Founder and COO Julie Brazil told the Northern Kentucky News website NKY Link that Berling was fired for violating a “workplace violence policy” and that the company stands by its decision.

She also said there had been an increase in incidents of workplace violence, telling the site: “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 make sure 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.