A jury in a Kentucky court ruled that Gravity Diagnostics, a Kentucky-based laboratory testing company, has to pay a former employee more than $450,000 after terminating his employment in August 2019.
The company is the same one contracted by the Indiana Department of Health to support nearly 3.5 million COVID-19 tests across Indiana during the pandemic. The company closed all its Indiana testing sites last month.
The judgment included lost wages and benefits, future lost wages and benefits and a payment for mental health and anguish. The ruling was filed in a Kentucky circuit court last week.
The employee, Kevin Berling, filed a complaint in September 2019 charging disability discrimination and retaliation.
Berling was diagnosed in 2009 with an anxiety disorder that can result in panic attacks in stressful situations, according to court documents.
Because of his condition, Berling asked Gravity’s management on Aug. 2 not to hold an office celebration for his birthday on Aug. 7 – which was common practice for birthdays at the company.
But on Aug. 7, Gravity did hold a party for Berling, which triggered a panic attack for him, according to the court filing.
Berling had to leave work and spend his break in his car – where he messaged his office manager about ignoring his request.
The next day, he was called into a meeting with his office manager’s supervisor, Amy Blackburn, and other leadership with the company and questioned about his reaction to the party. The meeting triggered another panic attack, and Berling was sent home for Aug. 8 and 9.
The complaint said Berling messaged Blackburn afterwards and apologized for having a panic attack.
He received an email from the company Aug. 11, 2019, that his employment was terminated because of these events.
A jury heard the case this spring, and on March 31 ruled that Berling had suffered adverse action from his employer because of a disability as defined by Kentucky discrimination law.
In an email from Gravity Diagnostics, a company spokesperson said Berling did not disclose having a disability and did not ask for accommodations. The company will file post-trial motions and plans to appeal the verdict.
Gravity’s email statement said during the meeting after Berling’s birthday, he used aggressive body language and words with his supervisor and the other person present, and repeatedly told Blackburn to “stop talking.”
According to a court motion filed by Gravity, Berling’s request not to have a birthday party was not forwarded to the person responsible for company celebrations.
Berling requested a meeting with his supervisor, Allison Wimmers, the day after the party. Instead, he met with Blackburn, and Ted Knauf – the company’s director of business operations.
Following this meeting, Wimmers, Blackburn, and Knauf spoke on the phone with Gravity Chief Operating Officer Julie Brazil about the events.
The court document stated Blackburn and Knauf told her they felt threatened during their meeting with him. Because of this, Brazil decided to terminate his employment because of the company’s zero tolerance policy for violence in the workplace. She did not learn about his panic attack until after terminating his employment, according to Gravity’s statement.