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3/4/2013 - Liability concerns rise for restaurateurs


Restaurants that don’t offer gluten-free options may be violating the ADA.

Business owners in the service industry are always vulnerable to being sued by a customer for improper service that resulted in sickness or injury. With a recent settlement made between the government and a Massachusetts-based university, their risk for litigation may have increased.

Lesley University officials and the U.S. Department of Justice came to an accord not long ago after students from the school filed suit against the university for its failure to provide more gluten-free foods available to faculty and students. Under the terms of the agreement, the university agreed to pay a fine of $50,000 because not meeting the dietary needs of people with food allergies may serve as a violation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"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 Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice. "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."

Joan Rector McGlockton, spokesperson for the National Restaurant Association, recently told The Associated Press that restaurateurs have taken notice of this decision and hope to provide more gluten-free options as well.

The decision may also set a precedent and open the door for eateries to be sued for not making more gluten-free food options available, increasing the need for professional liability insurance.

Gluten is a type of protein to which many people are allergic. In serious cases, people who have too much of it and are incapable of digesting the protein may wind up in the hospital, according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.


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