[Part 2 is here…]
Kevin Berling had been working at a medical laboratory, Gravity Diagnostics in Covington, Kentucky for about 10 months when he asked the office manager not to throw him a birthday party because he had a social anxiety disorder. He was freaked out because he had learned that his co-workers had planned a little lunchtime celebration with a cake and gag gifts in the break room. When the party went on as planned, Berling decided to hide in his car and have lunch there.
The next day, Kevin had what he called a panic attack during a meeting with two superiors, who expressed concerns about his behavior. His demeanor, they said later, frightened the supervisors, who sent him home and followed the company’s “workplace violence policy,” de-escalating the situation, removing his access to his office, and sending out security reminders to ensure he could not re-enter the building. Three days later he was fired on the stated grounds that Berling posed a threat to his co-workers’ safety.
Berling sued the company for disability discrimination and won, with the concluding that he had been discriminated against because of “a disability.” He was awarded $150,000 in lost wages and benefits and $300,000 for suffering, embarrassment and loss of self-esteem.
What? Berling was an at-will employee, and could have been fired for virtually anything or no reason at all. He had not informed the company that he had a “disability,” and though disability law frequently makes no sense to me, I find it impossible to believe that an employer is engaging in illegal conduct when one chooses not to hire someone who is unstable, or when one fires an employee after clear signs that his behavior will disrupt the workplace. I haven’t done the research, so the precedents may be as crazy as the people companies are forced to hire, but still—Berling’s supervisors testified that he had “clenched his fists, his face had turned red and he had ordered his supervisors to be quiet in the meeting. “They were absolutely in fear of physical harm during that moment,” Julie Brazil, the founder and chief operating officer of Gravity Diagnostics, said on Saturday. “They both are still shaken about it today.”
If Berling gets nearly a half-million dollars because he acted like a good candidate to go “postal,” I see a big payday in the future for –what would be the right word? Well, you know. And what do you think would have been the result if the company had taken no action with Berling and he had snapped, coming in the next day with gun and shooting the birthday party organizers? I’d sure take the lawsuit by family members of the victims for a contingent fee.
And I say this as even sympathizing as a former victim of a terrifying surprise birthday party my mother once organized. To make sure I didn’t suspect anything, she scheduled the thing days before my birthday. She asked me to get something in our creepy basement, and when I was half-way down the stairs, a mob of people leaped out and screamed “Happy Birthday!” I fell down the stairs. See, when it’s your birthday and that happens, you quickly think: “Oh! A surprise party! These are my friends!”
When it’s not your birthday, you think, and I did: “I’m going to die.”