Navigating Disability Accommodation and Relational Issues in the Workplace

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees with disabilities from discrimination, ensuring they have equal opportunities to contribute to the workforce. A startling case that brings to light the challenges and complexities of ADA compliance involves a former employee of Coca-Cola Consolidated, Inc. (CCCI), who has a rare form of Tourette Syndrome—a condition that led him to involuntarily utter racist and obscene words.

Case Overview

This employee’s role at CCCI required him to both deliver products and provide excellent customer service. The task was made challenging by his condition, which not surprisingly led to other employees feeling “very uncomfortable” and customers to file complaints. People did not want to interact with him and felt unsafe. The employer worked with the employee for some time, as he had therapy and changed his medication, but it didn’t solve the problem. Ultimately, the employee was placed in a warehouse position without customer interaction, but with slightly less pay.

When CCCI put the employee in a lesser paid job that didn’t involve direct contact with customer, he sued for disability discrimination and constructive discharge.

The court ruled in favor of the employer, granting summary judgment. They looked closely at how the ADA's rules about reasonable accommodations applied to the job's essential functions; the ability to maintain great customer relations was seen as crucial for this position. It's a clear example of the tricky balance employers face: supporting employees with disabilities while still keeping the business running smoothly.

Key Takeaways for Businesses

Craft Really Good Job Descriptions: The ADA protects employees with disabilities as long as they can perform the essential functions of their job, with or without reasonable accommodations. This case turned on whether good customer interaction was actually part of the employee’s job. Because it was, the company was justified in ultimately moving the employee into a position without customer interaction, even a lesser-paid position. Having a good job description that describes essential job functions is key.

Reasonable Accommodations: Employers are required to provide accommodations unless doing so would cause undue hardship. CCCI’s attempt to adjust the employee’s role and responsibilities was seen as a reasonable effort to accommodate his disability while maintaining service standards.

Engage in an Interactive Process: The ADA encourages employers and employees to engage in an interactive process to identify suitable accommodations. Here, the company patiently worked with the employee for some time. This interactive process is very important, and employers must document efforts to accommodate and communicate with employees with disabilities.

Limits of Accommodation: While employers must accommodate employees with disabilities, they are not required to compromise essential job functions or create new positions as accommodations. The decision to transfer this employee to a position with no customer interaction was reasonable, given the circumstances.


The ADA provides a framework for supporting employees with disabilities, but its application in the workplace can be complex. It requires compassion for both the employee and others who may also have important concerns. Employers must engage with employees to identify reasonable accommodations and to understand the bounds of these accommodations. By doing so, employers can support a healthy work environment as well as the essential functions of their business operations.


Featured Image by Rebecca Sidebotham.

Because of the generality of the information on this site, it may not apply to a given place, time, or set of facts. It is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations