College Students Win Gluten-Free Lawsuit

By Tara Taft

Eating GF at college can still present a challenge, according to comments on Udi’s blog post on March 29, 2012 titled, How to Eat Gluten Free (and Healthy) in College Dining Halls.”

This post describes persisting concerns about cross-contamination and the availability of gluten-free options in college dining halls. A recent lawsuit by a Lesley University student should cause other colleges to take a closer look at their gluten-free food options.

The U.S. Department of Justice and Lesley University signed an agreement on December 20, 2012, according to a statement released that same day, “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).”

“By implementing this agreement, Lesley University will ensure students with celiac disease and other food allergies can obtain safe and nutritional food options,” according to Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of ADA. “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.”

In addition to providing ready-made hot and cold gluten- and allergen-free food options in its dining hall food lines, Lesley University is required to provide individualized meal plans for students with food allergies and to provide a dedicated space to avoid cross-contamination and to pay $50,000 in compensatory damages to previously identified students. According to the Boston Globe on January 9, 2013, only one student is ¬believed to have filed the complaint, even though a number of people are entitled to a share of the cash award.

While Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires federally funded public elementary and secondary education programs to provide a free appropriate public education and not discriminate against disabled students, the ADA says that individuals with disabilities are entitled to the “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations” of any place of public accommodation, including colleges and universities.
For the complete list of Lesley University’s required actions, go to or call the toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TTY).

If you have a child going to college, consider getting a copy of Children’s Hospital Boston’s DVD, “Gluten Free at College: A Guide for Students, Families and Dining Service Professionals.” Created as part of the Family Health Education Series, the DVD includes two modules, one for students and families and one for dining service professionals, and also includes a CD with textual resources available for download. Watch the DVD yourself; then, share it with your college’s dining service professionals.

Sherryl Radbil, mother of a first-year college student, says, “After watching the Children’s Hospital Gluten Free at College DVD, I set up an appointment with the UMass dietician on the day we moved my son onto campus. She spent over an hour with us giving us a tour of the dining commons and introducing our son to all of the staff. They even showed him the GF freezer and told him he can always go there to get the breads, etc.,that he needs.” The DVD is available on Amazon for $29.95 plus shipping.

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