Kentucky man’s birthday surprise costs his employer $450k after adverse reaction

A Kentucky man secured $450,000 in a lawsuit against his former employer after the company threw a surprise birthday party that caused him to have a panic attack.

The man, Kevin Berling, suffers from anxiety and panic attacks and had requested that the company, Gravity Diagnostics, not throw a surprise birthday party for him, as was custom for other employees.

When his coworkers threw him a party regardless, Berling suffered from a panic attack that deteriorated his relationship with the company, CNBC reported Saturday.

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Berling was called in for a meeting the following day, where his superiors “criticized” him for how he had handled the party, resulting in another panic attack.

“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 Link NKY. “The way he described it is he started hugging himself and asked them to please stop.”

Berling was then sent home for the remainder of the week and received a letter the following Monday informing him that he had been fired. Berling sued the company for disability discrimination and retaliation, according to CNBC.

Gravity Diagnostics argued Berling had represented a threat to his coworkers during the incident, however. Founder and COO Julie Brazil said other employees had to calm down Berling and escort him from the building after the party.

“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,” she told Link.

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Berling’s lawyer, Tony Bucher, argued that Berling never exhibited any violent tendencies and that a panic attack does not make someone a danger to others.

“Basically what the argument was is he was fired for having a panic attack,” Bucher told Link. “They made assumptions that he was dangerous based off of his disability and not off of any evidence that he was violent.”

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