His Employer Threw Him a Birthday Party . He Sued Them for $450,000.

Fatim Hemraj

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A Kentucky man is nearly half a million dollars richer after his employer threw him a birthday party against his wishes. I know what you might be thinking; Doesn’t everyone want to wear a party hat and eat free cake with their colleagues while on the clock? Well, actually, no. Not everyone does.

Kevin Berling explicitly asked his employer Gravity Diagnostics not to throw him a party for his upcoming birthday as per their tradition. Kevin told his office manager that birthday celebrations tend to revive traumatic childhood memories, triggering his anxiety disorder. In a move that ultimately cost the company thousands, they ignored Kevin’s request and threw him a party anyway.

On August 7, 2019, Kevin walked into the staff break room to find a birthday party held in his honor. After suffering a very public panic attack, Kevin fled to his car, where he spent his lunch hour before returning to finish the remainder of his shift.

The next day, Kevin was called into a meeting. His supervisors ostracized and belittled him for leaving a party that he never wanted. Kevin was accused of “stealing his co-workers' joy.”

The confrontation triggered a second panic attack. Kevin did the only thing he knew how to do. He hugged himself tightly and asked his supervisors to stop. In response, they suspended him.

Two days later, Kevin received a shocking email. Higher-ups feared he was at risk of violent behavior and fired him. Kevin was out of a job, all because he suffered a panic attack, and comforted himself with a coping technique that he had learned from his therapist.

Kevin filed a lawsuit against Gravity Diagnostics for disability discrimination.

“He was fired for having a panic attack. They made assumptions that he was dangerous based off of his disability and not off of any evidence that he was violent,”-Kevin’s lawyer, Anthony J. Bucher.

A 12-person jury sided with Kevin. They awarded him $300,000 for emotional distress and an additional $150,000 for lost wages

After the decision, Gravity Diagnostics doubled down on its decision. Founder Julie Brazil claimed that Kevin had violated a workplace violence policy stating, “My employees were the victims in this case, not the plaintiff.” The company was more concerned with upset employees who didn’t get to enjoy a staff party, rather than Kevin’s mental well-being. Had the employees at Gravity Diagnostics undergone mental health awareness training, they would have learned that anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults every year in the United States. In fact, it’s the most common mental illness.

It was never about the money for Kevin. It was about the principle of the matter, and that’s how he found the courage to stand up in front of a room of strangers and tell his story.

Let this be a lesson to remain empathetic toward those who suffer from mental illness. Oh, and don’t throw anyone a birthday party unless you’re absolutely sure they like to be the center of attention.

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