Overview: A crew member sued his employer for disability discrimination after his coworkers decided to throw a birthday party for him.
The scenario: About 10 months after he started working for Gravity Diagnostics, Covington, KY, Kevin Berling was asked by the office manager whether he wanted his coworkers to throw a birthday party for him. Berling insisted that he preferred to not celebrate his birthday with his colleagues because it would aggravate his anxiety disorder.
Nevertheless, the employer proceeded with the lunchtime birthday party, which prompted Berling to suffer a panic attack. He spent the entire party in his car in the parking lot.
The next day, two supervisors met with Berling to discuss the aborted party. During the meeting, Berling suffered another anxiety attack. His face turned red, and he hugged his body and clenched his fists. He demanded that his bosses stop talking.
Fearing physical harm, the supervisors ended the meeting and sent Berling home for the day. Although Berling later sent a text to one of the managers apologizing for his behavior during the meeting, he was terminated two days later.
Legal challenge: Berling sued Gravity Diagnostics for disability bias, claiming that he was dismissed because of his anxiety disorder.
The employer said he was terminated as a result of his behavior during the meeting, which caused his bosses to feel physically threatened.
The ruling: The employer lost. A jury ruled that Berling could be considered disabled and that managers were aware of his disability. The jury awarded $450,000 to Berling for lost wages, mental anguish and loss of self-esteem.
Based on Berling v. Gravity Diagnostics, LLC.
(From the April 29, 2022, issue of HR Manager’s Legal Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)