Days before his birthday in August 2019, an employee at a Kentucky-based laboratory asked his office manager to not arrange a celebration for his birthday.
It wasn’t the fear of getting older, but rather an anxiety disorder that can spur “panic attacks in stressful situations,” according to court documents. The employee, who was hired in October 2018 by Gravity Diagnostics, did not want a celebration because “being the center of attention” can trigger his disorder, the documents state.
When the company threw him a lunchtime party against his wishes, it triggered a panic attack and he left abruptly to spend his break in his car. Four days later, after his office managers confronted him about his reaction to the party, he was fired from the Northern Kentucky company, court records show.
He eventually sued Gravity Diagnostics, and this week, a jury awarded the man $450,000 in damages for his lost wages and emotional distress.
An attorney for Gravity Diagnostics did not immediately respond to a request for comment by McClatchy News. Gravity Diagnostics is based out of Covington, Kentucky, and says it provides “innovative laboratory testing” for physicians and patients.
Julie Brazil, the founder and chief operating officer of Gravity Diagnostics, claims it was the other employees who were victimized, she told Link NKY.
“My employees de-escalated the situation to get the plaintiff out of the building as quickly as possible while removing his access to the building, alerting me and sending out security reminders to ensure he could not access the building, which is exactly what they were supposed to do,” Brazil told Link NKY. “As an employer who puts our employee safety first, we have a zero-tolerance policy and we stand by our decision to terminate the plaintiff for his violation of our workplace violence policy.
When the employee left the office on Aug. 7 to spend the remainder of his birthday lunch in his car, he texted his office manager asking why she failed “to accommodate his request (to) ... forego the standard birthday celebration,” his attorney states.
A day later after he arrived for work, he was called into a meeting with two superiors, who “confronted and criticized” him for how he reacted to the birthday party he did not want, according to the lawsuit. This caused him to have another panic attack.
He was sent home from work for the next two days and later apologized for having the panic attack. On Aug. 11 he received an email stating “he was being terminated because of the events of the previous week,” the lawsuit states.
His attorney said Gravity Diagnostics caused him to suffer “from a loss of income and benefits and emotional distress and mental anxiety.” The lawsuit was filed on grounds of disability discrimination and retaliation.
The $450,000 he was awarded includes $120,000 for lost wages and $300,000 for “past, present and future mental pain and suffering, mental anguish, embarrassment, humiliation, mortification and loss of self-esteem,” court records show.
His attorney, Tony Bucher, said he was happy to get his client “the vindication that he deserved.”
“Few people will know how much courage it took for him to take this case all the way to trial,” Bucher said in a statement to McClatchy News. “More than the financial award, I believe (he) was so happy and relieved that the jury recognized that he was not some violent and menacing person and that it was not okay for Gravity Diagnostics to just assume that he was without any evidence to support those misconceptions.”
Gravity Diagnostics will appeal the verdict, Brazil told Link NKY, based on “discovery of juror misconduct violating trial judge’s orders.”