Worker wins $450,000 after an office birthday party he didn’t ask for triggers anxiety

Company could still appeal judgement

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Monday 18 April 2022 07:38 BST
Kentucky man wins $450,000 after unwanted birthday party triggers anxiety

A worker has won a $450,000 compensation case after colleagues went against his wishes and threw him an office birthday party, setting off his anxiety and ultimately leading to him losing his job.

Kevin Berling was hired as a lab technician at Gravity Diagnostics in Covington, Kentucky, in 2018. According to his lawyers, he had asked the company to avoid its typical birthday celebration when his came around, due to concerns it would trigger his anxiety disorders.

According to his complaint against the company, the office manager forgot about Mr Berling’s request, and planned his office birthday party in August 2019.

The employee was left overwhelmed and had to leave the celebration to spend lunch hour in his car, according to the filing.

After the party incident, management held a meeting with Mr Berling about what had happened, setting off another anxiety attack.

A few days later he was fired, with managers citing concerns about his perceived anger and potential to become violent.

The firing meant Mr Berling missed out on the company’s rapid growth during the Covid pandemic, where some employees saw raises as much as 300 per cent, his lawyers said.

On Friday, a jury unanimously awarded Mr Berling a $450,000 judgment against the company, finding that he was entitled to $120,000 in lost wages and benefits, $30,000 in future wages, and $300,000 for “past, present and future mental pain and suffering, mental anguish, embarrassment, humiliation, mortification, and loss of self-esteem,” according to court documents.

The company could still appeal the decision.

The Independent has reached out to Gravity Diagnostics for comment.

"This may sound cliche to say that the money was really secondary in this thing,” Tony Bucher, the former employee’s lawyer, told Local12. “It was a big step for someone who doesn’t like that kind of attention to stand up in front of 12 jurors and stand up for himself."

The attorney said that the company had misinterpreted the situation, and that Mr Berling was doing what he needed to calm himself down and was not being violent.

"They started giving him a pretty hard time for his response to the birthday celebration, actually accusing him of stealing his co-workers’ joy,” Mr Bucher added.

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