For most, birthdays are a time of celebration, reflection, and cake. Many employers get into the act, using employees’ birthdates to mark the occasion with an office gathering. For one Kentucky man, an unwelcome office-birthday celebration led to a series of unfortunate, yet foreseeable, events.
The employee warned his manager that a birthday celebration would trigger a panic attack and requested that, for his birthday, the company forego its practice of celebrating employee birthdays. The company, Gravity Diagnostics, ignored his request. Despite the employee’s warning that an office birthday party could aggravate his anxiety disorder, the employer threw him a surprise lunchtime party. The employee was so upset, he had to leave work to finish lunch in his car. The following day, the employee was called into a meeting where he was criticized for his reaction to the unwanted celebration. The meeting triggered another panic attack, causing the employer to send the employee home. The company then fired him based on his reaction to the unwanted birthday party and the meeting.
Jury awards $450,000
The Plaintiff sued his former employer for disability discrimination and retaliation. The employer claimed that its treatment of the Plaintiff was due to an increase in the number of incidents of workplace violence; however, the jury rejected the employer’s explanation and awarded the Plaintiff $450,000.00.
Employers should consult an attorney if they have any questions about the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), how to respond to an employee’s disclosure of a mental illness or a mental health issue and/or requests for accommodations; workplace violence policies; and any other employment law questions.