The United States Department of Justice has declared that food allergies can be considered a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act, a legacy of the George H.W. Bush Administration. The declaration emerged in a little-noticed 2012 settlement with Lesley University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A student there complained to the federal government after Lesley declined to exempt the student from a meal plan. Lesley will now be required to serve gluten-free foods, make other accommodations, train staff about allergies and pay $50,000 to students affected in the case.
Eve Hill of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said that “by preventing people from eating,” Lesley was “preventing them from accessing their educational program.” Hans Von Spakovsky, a veteran of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, called the move a major expansion of disability law and told reporters that “the fact that this is a federal case and the Justice Department is going to be deciding what kind of meals could be served in a dining hall is just absurd.” It’s actually worse.
As one commentator noted, it would have been much easier simply to cancel Lesley’s mandatory meal plan. And the consequences go beyond having the Justice Department dictate the menu. “To say that food allergies are a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act and start mandating what’s on the menu leaves all food establishments at risk of lawsuits in the future.” And doubtless, those with other allergies, perhaps the perfume-adverse, now have new incentive to push for disabled status under ADA. As Richard Gelles noted in The Third Lie, the dynamic for self-serving government officials is to weld open the eligibility door. That will lead to yet more lawsuits and court settlements.
That is good for trial lawyers, certain to cash in. It will also enable government officials to impose more absurd rulings that waste taxpayer dollars, increase the cost of government, and make life more expensive and complicated for all. And they will do this while posturing as champions of justice and defenders of civil rights.