Kevin Burling from Kentucky was not happy with his surprise birthday party at work in 2019. The American has filed a lawsuit. He claimed that the party caused him to panic attacks. Berling won and was allowed to put $450,000 (€416,000) into his bank account.
Gravity Diagnostics used to celebrate the birthdays of its employees at work. But Berling declared in advance to his employer that he did not want a birthday party because in his case it would lead to bouts of stress and anxiety. This could cause childhood trauma, Berling warned.
However, Burling’s boss organized a surprise party for him in August 2019. Burling quickly turned it down and continued to finish his lunch in his car. The next day at a business meeting, Berling’s position was criticized. He was accused of behaving like a “little girl” and “spoiling the fun of his classmates”. That meeting triggered another panic attack, after which the company sent him home for two days.
A few days later, on August 11, 2019, Kevin Burling was fired. Gravity Diagnostics cited workplace safety concerns as the reason. But according to Berling, there was discrimination and unfair retaliation against him.
After a two-day trial, the jury awarded Berling $450,000 at the end of March. $300,000 (over €275,000) for psychological distress and $150,000 (€140,000) for loss of income.
Gravity Diagnostics is still behind the decision to dismiss Berling and is considering an appeal. “My staff were the victims in this case, not the culprit,” said Julie Brasil, director of operations at Local Press. What the company calls a “safety risk” for other employees, the other party calls a “panic attack.” Berling’s attorney puts it this way: “Assuming that people with mental health problems are dangerous without providing any evidence of violent behavior is discriminatory.”
According to the BBC, data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness shows that more than 40 million Americans – nearly one in five – suffer from anxiety disorders.
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