A Kentucky man was awarded $450,000 in a lawsuit against his former employer, Gravity Diagnostics after they refused to honor a request for a reasonable accommodation due to a known disability.
Kevin Berling sued Gravity Diagnostics after they fired him over his reaction to a surprise office birthday party he requested they refrain from having for him.
Berling—who lives with an anxiety disorder—requested his birthday not be celebrated because he knew the office party would be likely to cause a panic attack.
During testimony, Berling said:
"That day is a day that is very stressful and causes a lot of anxiety for me."
That request was not honored, though, and Berling found a party waiting for him in the lunch room on August 7, 2019.
As he had anticipated, the event triggered a panic attack and he quickly grabbed his lunch and went to eat in his car and weather the panic.
When he met with his supervisor, Amy Blackburn, and the Director of Business Operations, Ted Knauf, the next day to discuss the former day's events, things got even worse. He was reportedly berated for how he had reacted and accused of "stealing his co-workers' joy" and "being a little girl" about the whole situation.
This triggered another panic attack and Blackburn claimed she feared Berling "was going to literally strike her" because he was sitting silently with his fists clenched—likely using a common coping mechanism for dealing with anxiety which involves deep breaths and focusing on one's body until the panic passes.
She further said he "commanded silence while shaking" when she and Knauf asked if he was alright.
Instead of inflicting or even threatening any violence, Berling left a few minutes later when he was sent home until Monday of the following week.
According to legal filings:
"This confrontation triggered another panic attack."
"At the conclusion of this meeting and because plaintiff had a panic attack, plaintiff was sent home from work for the remainder of August 8 and August 9."
While some accused him of being overly sensitive, many Twitter users who have lived experience with anxiety disorders were firmly on Berling's side.
Gravity Diagnostics COO and founder Julie Brazil maintains her current employees are the true victims of the incident, not the plaintiff—insinuating Berling was a threat because he suffers from an anxiety disorder.
"With ever-increasing incidents of workplace violence, this verdict sets a very dangerous precedent for employers and most importantly employees that unless physical violence actually occurs, workplace violence is acceptable."
A spokesperson for Gravity Diagnostics said:
"This female supervisor and the other employee were both absolutely terrified for their physical safety."
Berling has declined requests to be interviewed, but his attorney Tony Bucher told WKRC Berling was simply using coping techniques to try to calm down during the meeting:
"They started giving him a pretty hard time for his response to the birthday celebration, actually accusing him of stealing his co-workers' joy."
It would seem the jury agreed with Bucher's assessment, as Berling was awarded $300,000 for emotional distress and a further $150,000 for lost wages.
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