Recently the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reached a settlement with Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, concluding that severe food allergies, including celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder), qualify as a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
Though the news was slow to catch on in the press, it immediately raises interesting questions: What, exactly, is a disability, and which other conditions might eventually fall into that category? How will this ruling affect other food-service operations, including restaurants? And what opportunities does it present for the fast-growing gluten-free food product industry?
The Lesley case was prompted by students who objected to the school’s mandatory meal plan; when a student suffers from celiac disease or gluten intolerance, eating most traditionally prepared food results in severe and ongoing health problems.
Rather than simply removing the mandate to buy the on-campus dining plan and make it optional, the school agreed to a settlement that goes far beyond giving students an out and chooses to actively serve their dietary needs. Under the agreement, Lesley now will provide gluten-free food options in the dining halls, allow students to pre-order food, address cross-contamination concerns, and train their staff about food allergies.