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ADA allowed Coca-Cola bottler to reassign driver with Tourette syndrome to warehouse, court rules

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A former delivery driver for Coca-Cola Consolidated Inc., a bottler for Coca-Cola, had no disability discrimination claim when the company moved him from a customer-facing role to a warehouse position, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Feb. 15 (Cooper v. Dolgencorp, LLC; Coca-Cola Consolidated, Inc.). 

In 2016, the worker began delivering products for CCCI throughout northeast Tennessee. He had Tourette syndrome, a disability characterized by involuntary muscle movements and speech. While the company knew of the worker’s condition at the time of his hiring, it said it “progressed” during his employment, resulting in the involuntary use of profanity and racial slurs. 

Customers complained to CCCI about the worker’s conduct, and the company worked with the employee to try to accommodate the issue. In September 2017, he applied for and was granted leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act, during which he sought treatment for his condition. When the behavior continued upon his return to work, he requested to work with a partner, who would carry out the bulk of customer interactions. CCCI granted the request briefly.

In December 2019, after meetings revealed the condition was “once again out of control,” the worker was asked to either take a leave of absence or accept a non-customer-facing warehouse position. He requested a non-customer-facing route as an accommodation, but none were available. So he took the warehouse role, which came with a slight pay cut. He quit a few months later.

In his lawsuit, the worker argued CCCI failed to accommodate his disability. But the 6th Circuit disagreed, finding excellent customer service was essential to the role, use of profane and offensive language impeded such service, and — given the lack of availability of a non-customer-facing delivery role — reassignment to a warehouse position was a reasonable accommodation. 

The worker also argued he was constructively discharged, or compelled to resign because CCCI deliberately made working conditions intolerable. But the worker could show no evidence CCCI made the position intolerable, and upon resigning, allegedly told the company the decision was not personal and was due to finding another job, according to court documents. 

Because CCCI worked closely and repeatedly with the worker to find accommodations, his disability discrimination charge held no bearing, the 6th Circuit concluded. 

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