Employment Law

Employee awarded $450,000 after unwanted birthday party at work

In Louisville, Kentucky, a jury awarded a fired employee $450,000 after his former employer, Gravity Diagnostics threw him an unwanted birthday party. The medical laboratory has a history of throwing birthday parties for its staff.

Birthdays cause anxiety

In 2019, Kevin Berling asked his manager not to hold a birthday celebration for him as he suffers from anxiety disorder and such an event would trigger a panic attack. Berling confided in his manager that birthday celebrations bring back childhood memories surrounding his parents’ divorce.

However, the manager forgot about Berling’s request and proceeded with a birthday party in the office for him. The employee had a panic attack, left the building, and spent an hour in his car trying to calm himself down.

Employee scolded and fired

The following day, Berling met with his bosses to discuss the incident. During this meeting, his superiors scolded him for “stealing his co-workers” joy and “being a little girl”, according to the lawsuit. Berling was terminated shortly after this meeting. Gravity Diagnostics claimed that they were concerned about Berling being angry and possibly violent.

In Berling’s lawsuit, he claimed that the company discriminated against him based on a disability and retaliated when he required reasonable accommodation.

Following a two-day trial, the jury returned a verdict awarding Berling $150,000 in lost wages and $300,000 for emotional distress.  After the trial, Tony Remington, founder and CEO of Gravity Diagnostics, said that it was his employees – and not Berling – who were the victims in this case.

WATCH: Employment lawyer Lior Samfiru discusses everything you need to know about the duty to accommodate on an episode of the Employment Law Show.

Employers must accommodate

While this matter occurred in Kentucky, this type of discrimination at work is, unfortunately, common in many workplaces across Canada. Our firm regularly receives calls from distressed individuals who are reprimanded or fired following a conversation where they disclose medical conditions to their employers.

Whenever an employee discloses a condition that requires accommodation an employer has an obligation to accommodate that employee, up to the point of undue hardship. Additionally, if an employer reprimands or punishes an employee following the disclosure of a medical condition, they would face significant liability to that employee, typically by way of a monetary award. These awards could include lost wages, damages for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect as a result of the employer’s discriminatory conduct.

Communicate your medical condition

If you have a medical condition that requires accommodation, speak with your employer and document those conversations in writing, either by email or in personal notes afterward. Your employer has an obligation to make reasonable efforts to accommodate you in the workplace.

If your employer refuses to oblige or punishes you in any way (by reducing your hours or duties, or by firing you), it would be considered a reprisal, and you could be owed financial compensation as a result. If you are laid off after disclosing a medical condition and any accommodations that flow from the condition, you will also be entitled to a full severance package. If this happens to you, speak with an employment lawyer at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP to discover your rights, and get the compensation you’re entitled to.

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