On December 20, 2012, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it entered into an agreement with Lesley University to ensure that students with celiac disease and other food allergies can fully and equally enjoy the university's food services in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As a follow up to this announcement, the DOJ released a new technical assistance document, entitled Questions and Answers About the Lesley University Agreement and Potential Implications for Individuals with Food Allergies.
As a result of this settlement, private colleges and universities that offer on-campus dining should immediately:
Review the DOJ's Q&A document and settlement agreement; and
Evaluate their food service plans to assess whether reasonable modifications for its students with disabilities are necessary to avoid ADA discrimination claims.
The DOJ clearly stated that the ADA does not require every place of public accommodation that serves food to the public to provide gluten-free or allergen-free food. Lesley University had required students living on campus to participate in and pay for its meal service plan. However, as indicated by questions four and five of the DOJ's technical assistance document, entities serving food to the public, such as restaurants, should analyze how the ADA may affect the food options offered and how food is prepared and stored.
In addition, restaurants may have to take some reasonable steps to accommodate individuals with disabilities if they do not result in a fundamental alteration of the restaurant's operations (in other words, a modification that is so significant that it alters the essential nature of the goods or services that a business offers). For example, it would not be considered a fundamental alteration to:
Answer a diner's question about a menu item's known ingredients; or
Omit or substitute certain ingredients upon request if the restaurant normally does this for other customers.
A restaurant would not, however, be required to alter its menu or provide different foods to meet particular dietary needs.
Employee Management > Disabilities (ADA)
Statement from NACUFS Regarding Food Allergies and the ADA