Employee Gets An Unwanted Surprise Birthday Party At Office, Gets A Panic Attack, Sues The Company For $450k
Birthdays at work can get awkward because the company and your colleagues might feel it’s their duty to congratulate you even though you’re not that close to them. You might not like birthday celebrations in general, especially because we still haven’t found out the secret of what to do when people sing “Happy Birthday” to you.
However, a lab technician at Gravity Diagnostics in Covington, Kevin Berling, really didn’t want his colleagues to organize any type of celebration for him, explaining that he suffers from an anxiety disorder and panic attacks. The company still threw him a party and he did indeed experience a panic attack. Kevin sued his employer, won the lawsuit and was compensated $450,000.
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A man received $450k from his company that not only threw a birthday party that caused him a panic attack but also fired him for it
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Kevin Berling started working at Gravity Diagnostics in Covington in 2018. This company had a tradition of throwing little lunch break birthday parties for employees. Knowing that, the lab technician warned his manager on August 2, 2019 not to do anything similar for him because it would cause him immense stress that would lead to a panic attack.
Panic attacks are no joke as it’s not just a mental condition, which is not pleasant in itself, but it also manifests itself in a variety of physical symptoms. Among others, the NHS lists feeling faint, nausea, chest pain, shortness of breath, a choking sensation or ringing in your ears as symptoms of the disorder. They can last from 5 minutes to 20 minutes and even an hour and are a big strain on one’s health.
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When Kevin started working at the company, he knew about the birthday parties held for employees
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While for some people, panic attacks come on with no apparent reason, Kevin knew what his trigger was and opened up about it in order to prevent it. Even though he was listened to and the manager accepted the request, she forgot to pass the information along and 5 days later, during lunch break, Kevin was greeted with a banner, a cake and birthday wishes from his colleagues.
Unsurprisingly, the event caused Kevin to have a panic attack, so he retreated to his car. What is worse, when he came to work the next day, his boss was completely insensitive towards him and blamed him for “stealing his coworkers’ joy” and “being a little girl.”
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He didn’t want to receive so much attention from his coworkers as he suffered from anxiety and panic attacks, so he told the manager about it in advance
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This attitude caused Kevin to have another panic attack. Kevin’s attorney Tony Bucher said that during the panic attack, his client was hugging himself as a method to try and calm down and his coworkers asked him to stop, but when he didn’t, they just left.
The coworkers “believed he was enraged and possibly about to get violent.” Kevin’s supervisor took away his key and asked security to not allow the employee back in.
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Bored Panda contacted Arthur LCSW to find out if panic attacks may make a person become violent and if the fears the supervisor had had any ground to it. They explained, “Panic attacks are marked by internal stress anxiety and fear. Many people experience sweaty palms racing heart some people think that they are having a heart attack though they are not. Most people do not become violent during a panic attack however panic can present in different ways for different people. If during someone’s panic they feel threatened they may try to protect themselves.”
The coworkers could have gotten the impression that Kevin might become aggressive because everyone has a different external reaction when they are having a panic attack, but Arthur LCSW doesn’t reject the possibility that “This may be due to ignorance about mental health.”
Apparently the manager failed to pass the information along and 5 days later Kevin found himself surrounded by colleagues wishing him a happy birthday
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After the incident Kevin was sent home and he never had the chance to come back because he received an email from his employer “informing him that he was being terminated because of the events of the previous week.”
Kevin sued the company for violating the Kentucky Civil Rights Act by firing him because of his disability and for not accommodating it by just not throwing him a party as he asked.
The company’s response to the accusation was that Kevin didn’t even prove his disability and they fired him not because of his condition, but because they feared the workplace wasn’t safe with him there.
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Surprise surprise, Kevin had a panic attack
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After a 2-day trial that took place in Kenton County and ended on March 31 of this year, the jury unanimously declared that Kevin indeed suffers from a disability and wasn’t provided a work environment that accommodated it.
The jury also awarded Kevin $450k which included “$120,000 in lost wages and benefits; $30,000 in future lost wages and benefits; and $300,000 for past, present and future mental pain and suffering, mental anguish, embarrassment, humiliation, mortification and loss of self-esteem.”
If that was not enough, he suffered another one the next day as his supervisor was very unhappy about him ruining the celebration for everyone
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Panic attacks can manifest in different ways and people have different ways to cope, but the supervisor interpreted that behavior as aggression
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The story went viral all over the internet and prompted a discussion about mental illnesses, disorders and how they are real and not just fever dreams you can snap out of. It also brought up the topic of listening to people’s wishes, respecting their boundaries and appreciating employees for the work they do.
Many people related to Kevin and also hated being the center of attention on any occasion. Several people mentioned that these kinds of situations are what makes them love working from home and dread the day when companies force everyone to come back. Of course, online users were also glad that the court acknowledged Kevin’s suffering and gave the man a decent compensation.
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In fear of a violent outburst due to his panic attacks, Kevin was fired
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This case shows that there is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health issues, but Arthur LCSW suggests that people who suffer from panic attacks need to seek help from a mental health professional or they can explore their options with their primary care doctor.
Regarding the workplace, the expert says that “When someone discloses a medical need including a mental health need company should do their best to make reasonable accommodations. Some companies have EAP programs where employees are allowed to receive a number of sessions with a licensed therapist that is paid for by the company.”
So he sued the company and won the case, receiving $450k as compensation
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What was your reaction when you read the story? Do you think Kevin deserved the money he received? Was the company in the right to fire him because they feared a panic attack might end with outbursts of violence? Do you consider this situation a case of disability discrimination? We would like to encourage you to have a conversation about this in the comments!