“It depends,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice. “Some individuals with food allergies have a disability as defined by the ADA–particularly those with more significant or severe responses to certain foods. This would include individuals with celiac disease and others who have autoimmune response to certain foods, the symptoms of which may include difficulty swallowing and breathing, asthma, or anaphylactic shock,” the DOJ explained.
The discussion about food allergies is in the DOJ’s “Questions and Answers” concerning its recent settlement of a Title III ADA complaint with Lesley University. In that settlement, the university agreed to, among other things, provide gluten-free and allergen-free food options in its dining hall to enable students with food allergies to use its mandatory food plan.
Anticipating the question of whether the ADA requires all public accommodations that serve food, such as restaurants, to serve gluten-free or allergen-free food, the DOJ said the ADA does not do so. “Because the [Lesley University] meal plan was mandatory for all students living on campus, the ADA required that the University make reasonable modifications to the plan to accommodate students with celiac disease and other food allergies. This is different than the ADA’s obligation for restaurants that serve the general public,” the DOJ explained.