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A Kentucky Jury Looks at The Line Between Anxiety and Threatening Behavior

Kevin Berling worked for Gravity Diagnostics for about ten months. With his birthday approaching, Berling went to the office manager to ask that the office not throw him a birthday party because of his anxiety disorder. Some other employees planned the party while the office manager was away. When Berling learned about the celebration, he had a panic attack. To avoid the gathering and decorated break room, Berling went to his car during the celebration. Berling said two supervisors asked him about his reaction to the party the next day, triggering another panic attack. Berling said he started hugging himself tightly and asked the supervisors to stop talking to him. The company said in court filings that Berling became “violent” in the meeting, scaring the supervisors. Gravity’s attorney said Berling clenched his fists, his face turned red, and ordered his supervisors to be quiet. The attorney said the supervisors feared physical harm, so they asked Berling to leave the premises. Berling texted one of the supervisors to apologize for his panic attack. Three days later, Gravity fired him, suggesting he was a threat to his co-workers’ safety. The parties agree Berling had no performance issues before this incident. Gravity claimed Berling had not previously disclosed his anxiety disorder to the company and did not qualify for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The jury reached a verdict for Berling, finding the company had taken an adverse employment action against him based on his disability. He received an award of $150,000 in lost wages plus $300,000 for emotional distress. The judge has not yet entered the judgment as final. The company plans to challenge the verdict on legal grounds and says one juror violated the court’s rules about not looking up information beyond what the parties presented in court.