Schools and universities should listen up! Not accommodating gluten free diets for people with celiac disease as well as other food allergies– could become a federal issue.

Recently, Lesley University in Cambridge and Boston,  Massachusetts settled a case brought by the US Department of Justice claiming that by not accommodating gluten free diets and safe food for those with food allergies, the school was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.  According to the Boston Globe’s article, the Department of Justice (DOJ) stated students couldn’t “fully and equally enjoy” the dining services.

Yeah, yeah, crack your joke now about whether any of us ever actually enjoyed the dining services.  Truth be told if you knew you couldn’t eat there, you probably would feel like you weren’t having the full school experience.

The DOJ news release explains that the University will change its 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.

In the settlement Lesley University doesn’t admit to any wrongdoing.  A representative from the school says many of these changes are already in place.

About the Americans with Disabilities Act and food allergies and celiac disease

The DOJ did the most concise explanation on the subject.  The Lesley University settlement “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.”

Another way to look at it is that by not accommodating a basic right of food, a person with celiac disease or a food allergy won’t be able to fully enjoy the college experience because they’ll be constantly sick.  The Boston Globe quoted a representative from a disability rights group as saying this is the first case he knows of where a college dining hall has been involved in such a settlement, but this has happened before with elementary and secondary schools.

What does this mean for people with celiac?

In my opinion, from a parent of a daughter with celiac, this gives me precedence to show educators and food service providers why they need to listen to us!  Simply put, by not accommodating, they are violating federal law.   I wish I would have had something like this  to wave around when Emma was having such a hard time with her Home Ec cooking class in 2011.

National Public Radio talked to Marilyn Geller, COO of the Celiac Disease Foundation about the settlement.  She said, “It puts all universities on notice that they’re going to have to make these accommodations for students with celiac, gluten sensitivity and other food allergies.”

“By not accommodating food allergies, you’re barring students from participating in the university,” Maria Acebel lawyer and spokesperson for the advocacy group Food Allergy Research & Education.

DOJ’s Perez agrees saying in the news release, “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.”

It really is time for all educational facilities to get with the program and find ways to accommodate food allergies and gluten free diets.  This just solidified it for me.



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5 Responses to “University Settles With Feds Over Gluten Free Food Complaints”

  1. You always do a great job of posting about things like this, Amy. I posted about this DOJ settlement on my Facebook page last night, and most people’s reactions were supportive. But some seemed angry at the idea of being told they have a “disability” and others seemed bothered by it as a nanny-state sort of thing. I’ll be honest – I didn’t see those reactions coming!

    Thanks for talking about the things that need to be talked about!


  2. Thanks Nicole. It will be interesting to see what people continue to say. I think this is a HUGE game changer….

  3. I hope the University of Minnesota is paying attention. After being told during orientation that everything on the breakfast bar was gluten-free (“Even the toast?” “Oh, yeah – there’s no wheat in it.”), we never even considered a dining plan for my son. We’ve also heard that if the main courses available for dinner don’t happen to be gluten free, you get a plain chicken breast and salad. Not sure if that last is still true, but, boy, do they have work to do!

    On the flip side, I’ve heard great things about how Bethel feeds their gluten-free students and staff. Go, Bethel!

  4. Yes, I smile at the nanny state but I am retired and get to eat at home. It must be ever so hard to have a child in public school with celiac or food allergies. School budgets have been cut here in Arizona to the bare minimum. I do not know what food rules we have in the schools now–I will try and find out.

  5. I think that people need to stay away from fully catered university residences if they have a medical dietary need such as gluten free, even if the college *claims* they can. My situation in Australia at uni was really bad in this regard and the catering team lied to me over and over about what was and wasn’t gluten free. I became very sick as a result.

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