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Justice Department To Lesley University: Meal Plans Must Include Students with Celiac Disease and Food Allergies

Massachusetts college students with Celiac Disease (CD) had something to celebrate on New Years Eve. No, not gluten-free beer in all the dorms. Rather, The Justice Department’s agreement with Lesley University in Cambridge, mandating that students with CD and other food allergies have better access to allergen-free foods provided by the university’s meal plan and food services department.   

“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,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, in a recent statement.

The late December settlement came after a federal civil rights investigation of Lesley University, which was sparked by a 2009 complaint that the school failed to provide gluten-free food to students with CD. The settlement was reached under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities – in this case food allergies – by colleges and universities for “their full and equal enjoyment of goods, services, and facilities.” The University has also agreed to pay $50,000 in compensatory damages to previously identified students who have celiac disease or other food allergies.

While Lesley University is not required to admit that it violated federal law, the school has agreed to amend its policies and practices in some of the following ways:

  • 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.
  • Display notices concerning food allergies and identify foods containing specific allergens.

This is obviously a major ruling and could be the pebble that starts a nation-wide ripple effect to all universities and colleges. Another win for those with CD!