College students with severe food allergies or celiac disease may soon be able to breathe a little easier due to a recent Justice Department ruling. This ruling requires a Massachusetts university to offer meal plans that accommodate those with special dietary needs. Finally kids can focus on their classes and books, not on struggling with the dining hall.

The Justice Department announced the agreement with Lesley University in Cambridge in late December. The agreement ensures 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,” 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 agreed 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 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. This was the first food allergy-related settlement under the ADA in higher education, according to a Department of Justice spokesperson.

Living Without magazine applauds the settlement (it’s about time!). We very much look forward to other universities following this lead.