College Students With Food Allergies Make Legal Gains

Tim Goral's picture
Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Many a college student lives off of microwavable meals – but some do it not by choice but because they're worried school food might make them sick.

They may have celiac disease, a digestive ailment caused by gluten, or life-threatening allergies to foods like peanuts — both are on the rise. But even as more people become aware of the issues, schools and institutions may lag behind.

Now some food allergy advocates are celebrating what they see as a shifting legal trend: schools and other institutions required to treat food allergies as a disability. They've found an ally in the Department of Justice.

DOJ's Civil Rights Division announced last month that the Americans With Disabilities Act applies to students at Lesley University in Cambridge, Ma., who claimed that the school's food services and meal plans were inadequate for their needs. It was the first food allergy-related settlement under ADA in higher education, says a DOJ spokeswoman.

In the agreement with DOJ, Lesley is required provide gluten- and allergen-free food options in its dining halls, offer special meal plans for students with allergies, and pay $50,000 in damages to the students who filed the claim in 2009, among other measures.

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