If you are going to throw a birthday party for an employee, make sure that person wants one. A recent case proved to be costly for a northern Kentucky medical testing company.
Kevin Berling took his former employer to court after claiming to suffer a panic attack and arguing that his stress caused him to lose his job, WLKY-TV reported. Jurors in Kenton County Circuit Court agreed this week and awarded Berling $450,000, the television station reported.
On Berling’s birthday, Aug. 7, 2021, his office arranged for a lunchtime party, WLKY reported. Berling said he suffered a panic attack after learning about the surprise luncheon, according to the television station.
According to Berling, in August 2019 he asked the office manager of his employer, Covington-based Gravity Diagnostics, not to hold a birthday celebration for him, the Courier-Journal reported. Being the center of attention causes him immense stress, Berling said, according to court documents.
“The person who was responsible for the birthday parties who he talked to flat out forgot about his request,” Berling’s attorney, Tony Bucher, told Link NKY. “She didn’t do it to be mean. She said she would accommodate it and she just forgot.”
According to court documents, Berling left the office and spent the lunch break in his car.
Berling sent a text message to the office manager, and the next day he was called into a meeting, WLKY reported.
“According to my client, she started reading him the riot act and accused him of stealing other co-workers’ joy,” Bucher told Link NKY. The meeting then triggered another panic attack, and Berling asked the office manager to stop, according to the lawsuit.
“The way (the Gravity Diagnostics employees) say it, they believed he was enraged and possibly about to get violent,” Bucher told Link NKY.
Bucher claimed that Berling did not make any threatening gestures, the website reported.
Berling said he was sent home for the next two days and was notified that weekend that he was being fired “because of the events of the previous week,” WLKY reported.
Berling sued Gravity Diagnostics on the grounds of disability discrimination and retaliation, according to court documents. According to the lawsuit, Berling said that since Gravity Diagnostics did not accommodate his anxiety disorder, the birthday party and the events afterward caused him “to suffer from a loss of income and benefits and emotional distress and mental anxiety.”
The $450,000 awarded by the jury included $300,000 for emotional distress and $150,000 for lost wages, WLKY reported.
Julie Brazil, Gravity Diagnostics founder and COO, said the verdict does not represent facts or the company’s employer rights by law.
“My employees de-escalated 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 told Link NKY. “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.
“My employees were the victims in this case, not the plaintiff.”
Brazil said her company is challenging the verdict, according to Link NKY.