Last month the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced an agreement that may greatly expand accommodation of people with celiac disease and other food allergies.
The settlement was reached with Lesley University of Cambridge Mass. in a suit brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the settlement, the university agrees to amend it’s policies and procedures to:
- Continually provide ready-made hot and cold gluten- and allergen-free food options in its dining hall food lines;
- Develop individualized meal plans for students with food allergies, and allow those students to pre-order allergen free meals, that can be made available at the university’s dining halls in Cambridge and Boston;
- Provide a dedicated space in its main dining hall to store and prepare gluten-free and allergen-free foods and to avoid cross-contamination;
- Enable students to request food made without allergens, and ensure that a supply of allergen-free food is available;
- Work to retain vendors that accept students’ prepaid meal cards that offer food without allergens;
- Display notices concerning food allergies and identify foods containing specific allergens;
- Train food service and University staff about food allergy related issues;
- Pay $50,000 in compensatory damages to previously identified students who have celiac disease or other food allergies.
The ADA “prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by public accommodations, including colleges and universities, in their full and equal enjoyment of goods, services, and facilities.”
The settlement may have far reaching consequences as other places of public accommodation move to adopt the settlement guidelines to avoid similar litigation. It was followed by a recent Iowa Appeals Court ruling that deemed food allergies are a covered disability under state law. The two events taken together mark a movement toward recognizing food allergy as a serious disability requiring accommodation as such.