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Company that supported Indiana COVID testing loses discrimination suit

Mareea Thomas

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.