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Man awarded $450,000 after panic attacks, firing following birthday party he asked company not to hold

Louisville, Ky. — A Kentucky jury has awarded $450,000 to a man who sued his employer after he asked the company not to celebrate his birthday at work - but the company did, anyway.

Kevin Berling told his manager at Gravity Diagnostics in Covington in 2019 that a birthday celebration would cause him immense stress. 

He'd worked there for about 10 months, reports CBS Cincinnati affiliate WKRC-TV and, because he suffers from anxiety disorders and panic attacks, he requested that the company not celebrate his birthday as it normally does for its workers.

But according to the lawsuit, the office manager forgot his request and still held the party for Berling. He had a panic attack and left and spent his lunch hour in his car.

His bosses held a meeting with Berling the next day about the incident, setting off another attack when his supervisor chastised him for "stealing his co-workers'" joy and "being a little girl," the suit said. Berling was fired after the second attack. The company told him it was worried about him being angry and possibly violent.

Berling alleged in the suit that the company discriminated against him based on a disability and retaliated against him for demanding a reasonable accommodation to it.

The jury returned the verdict after a two-day trial in Kenton County that ended in late March, awarding him $300,000 for emotional distress and $150,000 in lost wages.

An attorney for the company, Katherine Kennedy, said it continues to deny liability and is pursuing its post-trial options.

Julie Brazil, the company's founder and chief operating officer, said in an email statement to the newspaper that "with ever-increasing incidents of workplace violence, this verdict sets a very dangerous precedent for employers and most importantly employees that unless physical violence actually occurs, workplace violence is acceptable."

Brazil said her employees, rather than the plaintiff, were the victims in the case.

Berling's attorney, Tony Bucher, said once the jury got to meet his client, they realized the company's claim that he posed a threat was far-fetched.

Berling had told his supervisor that a birthday celebration would bring back bad childhood memories surrounding his parents' divorce.

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