In a recent settlement with Lesley University, the Justice Department said that severe food allergies may be considered a disability under the law.
Schools, restaurants, and other places that serve food may then be faced with legal action if they fail to honor requests of food allergy sufferers.
The settlement with Lesley was reached last month and required the school to serve gluten-free foods and make other accommodations for students suffering from celiac disease. Celiac disease is a condition in which the sufferer is unable to to absorb nutrients because of damage to the lining of the small intestine. The damage is caused by a reaction to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley, and sometimes oats.
According to The Associated Press, at least one student complained to the federal government that the school would not exempt them from a meal plan even though the student was unable to eat the food.
“All colleges should heed this settlement and take steps to make accommodations,” says Alice Bast, president and founder of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. “To our community this is definitely a precedent.”
Under the agreement, Lesley must provide gluten-free options as well as allow students to pre-order food. The university must also have a dedicated space for food storage and preparation to avoid contamination and must train its staff about food allergies. Affected students will receive a $50,000 cash settlement.
The agreement says that food allergies, if they are severe enough, may be considered a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act. In 2009, amendments concerning episodic impairments that limit activity were added to the act, making it possible for food allergies to be protected under the law.
Do you think food allergies should be considered a disability?