Lawsuit: Kentucky Man Awarded $450K After Employer Held Unwanted Birthday Party


A Kentucky man is set to be awarded $450,000 stemming from a lawsuit that alleged his work held him a birthday celebration he asked them not to throw, causing a panic attack and ultimately leading to his firing days later.

The plaintiff, Kevin Berling of Kenton County, Kentucky, approached his office manager at Gravity Diagnostics, LLC, on August 2, 2019, requesting that his upcoming birthday on August 7 not be celebrated in the office as was customary practice with the company, the lawsuit, obtained by WKRC-TV, alleged. Berling told management of his anxiety disorder because being the center of attention at an event such as a birthday party “is a source of great stress” for him, the complaint said.

On August 7, a party was arranged in the lunchroom for Berling’s birthday, and learning of the celebration on his way to for a lunch break prompted him to have a panic attack, according to the suit. The complaint asserted that he abruptly left the office and took his break in his vehicle, where he texted his manager, confronting her about the party he asked not to throw.

The next morning on August 8, Berling was summoned for a meeting with Ted Kanuf and Amy Blackburn and was subsequently criticized by Blackburn regarding his “reaction to the birthday celebration,” the complaint said. The meeting prompted Berling to suffer another panic attack, so he asked Blackburn to stop, the complaint asserted.

“At this point he starts employing other coping techniques that he’s worked on for years with his therapist,” Berling’s attorney Tony Bucher told LinkNKY. “The way he described it is he started hugging himself and asked them to please stop.”

The attorney said the two employees asked him to cease his coping methods, and when he did not, they left the conference room.

Bucher told LinkNKY that Gravity Diagnostics asserted his client was furious and alleged he potentially could have become violent.

According to the outlet, the company’s COO, Julie Brazil, said:

My employees deescalated 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.

Following the meeting, he was sent home for the remainder of the day and the following day, August 9, as he had a panic attack, the lawsuit said. The complaint stated that soon after arriving home, Berling sent his manager a text and apologized for his panic attack. On August 11, a Sunday, Gravity Diagnostics sent him an email notifying him of his termination, according to the complaint.

The suit alleged disability discrimination and retaliation on behalf of Gravity Diagnostics. The trial commenced on March 30 and concluded the following day, a trial order obtained by WKRC-TV states. On March 31, Berling and his council voluntarily dismissed the retaliation and a failure to accommodate claims, which left only the discrimination claim, according to the document.

After deliberating for roughly an hour and a half on March 31, the jury ruled in favor of Berling, awarding him $450,000, including “$300,000 for past, present and future mental pain and suffering, mental anguish, embarrassment, humiliation, mortification, and loss of self-esteem,” $120,000 in lost wages and benefits, and an additional $30,000 in lost future benefits and wages, the judgment says.

Brazil told LinkNKY the verdict does not represent the facts in the case. She noted the company’s intention to challenge the verdict over “discovery of juror misconduct violating trial judge’s orders, and then an appeal if necessary.”

The case is Berling v. Gravity Diagnostics, LLC, No. 19-Cl-01631, in Kenton County Circuit Court, Kentucky.

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