Man Awarded $450K After Workplace Birthday Party Panic Attack Leads to Termination

Disability Discrimination News

Kevin Berling was awarded $300,000 for emotional distress and $150,000 in lost wages for a disability discrimination case in late March after a two day trial in Kenton County, Kentucky.

Berling sued his employer, Gravity Diagnostics after the company threw him a birthday party against his request that the company not celebrate his birthday because it would cause him immense stress.

Berling suffers from anxiety disorders and panic attacks. He worked at Gravity Diagnostics for approximately 10 months, when he requested that the company not celebrate his birthday as it normally does for its employees. Berling told his supervisor that a birthday celebration would be a stressful trigger of bad childhood memories surrounding his parents’ divorce. The lawsuit outlines that the office manager ends up forgetting his request and the party is still held for Berling. As a result, Berling suffers a panic attack and leaves.

The next day, Berling is called into a meeting with his bosses where he suffers another panic attack when his supervisor chastised him for “stealing his co-workers” joy and for “being a little girl.” The company then fires Berling saying that they were worried about him being angry and violent. 

As part of the lawsuit, Berling claimed the company discriminated against him based on his disability, and retaliated against him for requesting a reasonable accommodation for his disability. The jury returned the verdict after two days in trial and awarded Berling a $450,000 win. 

The company continues to deny liability and is pursuing port-trial options. The company’s founder and COO, Julie Brazil, stated that the verdict sets a dangerous precedent in which workplace violence will be tolerated unless physical violence occurs, and stated that her employees were the victims, not Berling. The jury didn’t seem to agree with Brazil once they got to meet Berling at trial and saw that the company’s claim that he posed a threat was more of an exaggeration.

Employers must accommodate their employee’s disabilities and cannot terminate someone based on a protected category such as a disability or medical condition.  Further, the law prohibits harassment of an employee based on medical condition or disability. 

If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, retaliated or discriminated against based on a protected category such as a physical or mental disability, or medical condition, give us a call at 310-400-5891 for your free intake.

Learn more about Disability Harassment / Disability Discrimination Law

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