By: April Carson
A work birthday party is, at best, an uncomfortable event for everyone. However, a Kentucky man with anxiety disorder has earned a substantial sum as the result of an unwanted celebration.
A jury has handed Kevin Berling $450,000 in damages after his employer ignored his request to not celebrate his birthday, causing him to suffer a panic attack.
Berling's lawyer argued that the birthday celebration was a "clear violation" of his client's rights, as it constituted a "hostile work environment."
The jury agreed, and awarded Berling $50,000 in compensatory damages and $400,000 in punitive damages.
While it's unclear if this case will set a precedent, it does serve as a reminder that employers need to be aware of their employees' feelings and requests - even when it comes to something as seemingly innocuous as a birthday party.
The lawsuit was filed in 2019. On August 7, after informing his office manager that he did not want a surprise lunch because it might aggravate his anxiety condition, Gravity Diagnostics threw him a surprise lunch. According to his complaint, Berling became irritated to the point of having to leave and finish his meal in the car.
The next day, Berling was called into a meeting to explain his reaction. “I was criticized for the way I reacted,” he said. “This quarrel triggered another anxiety attack.”
Berling said he was then put on a performance improvement plan and told to seek counseling. When he asked for documentation of his supposed issues, he was given a printout of emails in which he had cc’d his wife on messages to Gravity colleagues, according to the complaint.
He was sent home and told not to return that week. On Sunday, August 11, the suit claims, he was sent a termination letter which cited “the events of the previous week”.
On March 31, the jury in his claim decided he had been subjected to an “adverse employment action” as a result of his anxiety disorder and awarded him $450,000 in damages.
"The employee was asked to leave the facility, due to a workplace violence policy," according to Gravity Diagnostics founder Julie Brazil. "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, the company de-escalated the situation," she added.
The lawsuit claimed that the company's response to his anxiety attack was "overly aggressive" and that it failed to provide him with a "safe space" to recover.
In its defense, the company argued that it did not know how to deal with an employee having an anxiety attack and that they were trying to protect other employees from a potential threat.
Brazil's attorney said that the verdict sends a "clear message" to employers that they need to be more understanding of mental health issues. "Mental health is a real thing and needs to be taken seriously by employers," she said. "This case is a victory for all those who suffer from mental illness and have been discriminated against because of it."
About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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