Justice Department and Lesley University Sign Agreement to Ensure Meal Plan Is Inclusive of Students with Celiac Disease and Food Allergies

Washington, DC - The Justice Department today announced an agreement with Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., to ensure that students with celiac disease and other food allergies can fully and equally enjoy the university’s meal plan and food services in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Food allergies may constitute a disability under the ADA. Individuals with food allergies may have an autoimmune response to certain foods, the symptoms of which may include difficulty swallowing and breathing, asthma and anaphylaxis. For example, celiac disease, which is triggered by consumption of the protein gluten (found in foods such as wheat, barley and rye), can cause permanent damage to the surface of the small intestines and an inability to absorb certain nutrients, leading to vitamin deficiencies that deny vital nourishment to the brain, nervous system, bones, liver and other organs. Celiac disease affects about 1 in 133 Americans.

“By implementing this agreement, Lesley University will ensure students with celiac disease and other food allergies can obtain safe and nutritional food options,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The agreement ensures that Lesley’s meal program is attentive to the schedules and demands of college students with food allergies, an issue colleges and universities across the country need to consider.”

Under the settlement, Lesley University agrees to amend its policies and practices 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 settlement agreement was reached under the ADA, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by public accommodations, including colleges and universities, in their full and equal enjoyment of goods, services, and facilities.

Additional information