NEWARK, N.J. – The United States has reached an agreement with Rider University to settle allegations that the school violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to make reasonable modifications to its policies, practices, and procedures for students with food allergy-related disabilities, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced today.
The matter originated from a complaint by a former Rider student with celiac disease, which is triggered by consumption of gluten. Celiac disease can cause permanent damage to the surface of the small intestines and an inability to absorb certain nutrients, leading to vitamin deficiencies that affect the brain, nervous system, bones, liver and other organs. According to the complaint, Rider University did not provide reasonable modifications to its policies, practices, and procedures regarding its dining program.
The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by public accommodations, including colleges and universities. Under the ADA, a disability is any mental or physical impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, and the ADA includes a wide range of major life activities – including eating – and the operation of major bodily functions, like the immune system. The ADA requires colleges and universities to reasonably modify their policies, practices or procedures when necessary to avoid disability discrimination, unless such entities can demonstrate that the modifications being sought would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods and services of the university.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office determined that Rider University failed to provide reasonable modifications to its policies, practices, and procedures for students with food allergy-related disabilities and failed to adequately train its staff on appropriate policies for accommodating individuals with food allergies. Since the beginning of the investigation, Rider University has worked cooperatively to develop and amend its policies and practices to comply with the ADA.
The settlement agreement requires Rider University to adopt policies for accommodating students with food allergy-related disabilities instead of relying on the limited policies of a food service vendor, make certain structural changes to food service areas to provide allergen-free food preparation areas in its dining facilities, employ a full-time dietician to advise the University and its students on ways to address food allergy-related disability issues, and create a “pre-order” option for students with food allergies.
“We commend Rider University on working to ensure that its students with severe food allergies have options that meet their needs,” US Attorney Craig Carpenito said. “This agreement will improve the experience of students with food allergy-related disabilities and help them to focus on getting an education.”
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Meyler and Michael E. Campion, chief of the Civil Rights Unit, of the U.S. Attorney’s Civil Division in Newark.
Individuals who believe they may have been victims of discrimination may file a complaint with the U.S Attorney’s Office at http://www.justice.gov/usao-nj/civil-rights-enforcement/complaint or call the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Civil Rights Complaint Hotline at (855) 281-3339. Additional information about the ADA can be found at www.ada.gov, or by calling the Department of Justice’s toll-free information line at (800) 514-0301 and (800) 514-0383 (TDD).