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Man Sues Employer Over Unwanted Office Birthday Party, Wins

A Kentucky man has won a $450,000 lawsuit against his former employer for throwing him an unwanted birthday party.

The trouble started in 2019 when Gravity Diagnostics held a party for Kevin Berling’s birthday. Problem is; Berling had requested they not celebrate due to an anxiety disorder. A reasonable accommodation, the company can save a few bucks on a cake and streamers. No problem, right?

Unfortunately “the person who was responsible for the birthday parties who he talked to flat-out forgot about his request,” Berling’s attorney, Tony Buche, said. The person in charge of parties “didn’t do it to be mean. She said she would accommodate [Berling’s request] and she just forgot.”

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But due to this error a party was thrown and Berling suffered a panic attack. To calm himself he left the situation and sat in his car. He practiced breathing techniques and ate him lunch to calm himself. He then texted his manager about the issue.

The next day Berling attorney says; “… [his managers] started reading him the riot act and accused him of stealing other co-workers’ joy.” Not surprisingly this triggered Berling into another panic attack. When he tried to soothe himself his coworkers asked him to stop using coping mechanisms like “hugging himself.” When he refused, his co-workers walked out. Bucher says “they believed he was enraged and possibly about to get violent.”

After this incident the employee was sent home for the rest of August 8th and 9th. Berling did apologize for his panic attack but was terminated via e-mail 3 days later.

The jury awarded Berling $450,000 for the following: “$120,000 in lost wages and benefits; $30,000 in future lost wages and benefits; and $300,000 for past, present and future mental pain and suffering, mental anguish, embarrassment, humiliation, mortification and loss of self-esteem.”

Patricia Summe, the Kenton circuit court judge, said Berling “was able to perform the essential functions of his job with or without reasonable accommodations” but he had “suffered an adverse employment action because of that disability”.

The company does plan to appeal because “My employees were the victims in this case, not the plaintiff,” said Julie Brazil, chief operating officer of Gravity Diagnostics. This medical laboratory believes the ruling can set a dangerous precedent. That workplace violence is acceptable as long as it is not physical.

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