A recent settlement agreement between the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ") and Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts explicitly extends the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") to individuals with severe allergies and autoimmune conditions such as celiac disease. The position of the DOJ Civil Rights Division reflected in this precedential settlement agreement shows that every entity serving food to the public, leasing to those who serve food and even employers with cafeterias must consider how ADA requirements may affect what food is offered, how it is prepared and even how it is stored.
Title III of the ADA -
Title III of the ADA prohibits public accommodations (defined in the statute to include, among others, healthcare providers, hotels and establishments serving food, movies, theaters or other entertainment venues, public displays or collections, retail and service establishments and educational institutions) from discriminating against disabled individuals by impeding their access to full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services or programs offered by the establishment, and requires them to make reasonable accommodations to their policies, practices and procedures as necessary to provide full and equal access. For many years, ADA accommodation in educational institutions has focused on the needs of students with learning disabilities or for physical access. The DOJ's broadly-worded settlement agreement with Lesley University creates a new set of accommodation issues for schools and, more importantly, for most facilities of any kind serving food.
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