COVINGTON, Ky. (WKRC) – A Park Hills man may be in line to get nearly $500,000 all because of a birthday party he didn't want.
Kevin Berling worked at Gravity Diagnostics in Covington for about 10 months in 2019, and because he suffers from anxiety disorders and panic attacks, he asked the company not to celebrate his birthday as it normally does for its workers. That's when things started to go south.
According to the lawsuit filed in Kenton County, the office manager forgot his request and still held a birthday party for Berling. That triggered a panic attack and he left and spent his lunch hour in his car. His bosses held a meeting with Berling the next day about the incident, triggering another attack.
At that point, company managers told him to leave for the weekend and then subsequently fired him, telling him they were worried about him being angry and possibly becoming violent.
Berling declined interview requests. His lawyer, Tony Bucher, says Berling wasn’t being violent but was using coping techniques to calm himself down. He adds the company apparently was more concerned about others than his client's well-being.
"They started giving him a pretty hard time for his response to the birthday celebration, actually accusing him of stealing his co-workers' joy,” Bucher said.
A jury believed Berling, however, and this week awarded him $450,000 in damages, including $300,000 for mental anguish.
That judgment was filed Friday with the court, but it's still not official yet since Gravity could still appeal, and Bucher is planning to ask the company to pay legal fees as well.
Local 12 did not hear back Friday from leaders at Gravity after leaving several messages seeking comment.
Bucher says his client is doing well but suffered from more attacks after the incident and is still in therapy. He adds Berling had been a model employee and missed out on a huge opportunity as Gravity has seen massive growth with its COVID-19 testing in Covington and throughout Kentucky. Some employees there testified seeing pay increases of between 50-300%, Bucher said.
"This may sound cliche to say that the money was really secondary in this thing,” Bucher said. “It was a big step for someone who doesn't like that kind of attention to stand up in front of 12 jurors and stand up for himself."