Universities Must Serve Gluten-Free Says US Dept of Justice

A February 2019 settlement reached between Rider University and the United States reaffirms that properly accommodating students with celiac disease, serious food allergies, or other food-related disabilities is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This case should make colleges and universities reassess how well they are meeting the needs of these students.

“The ADA defines ‘disability’ to include any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as eating, or a major bodily function, including the digestive system” according to the settlement. The terms of the Rider University settlement are consistent with those reached in the 2012 Lesley University settlement. Students with food-related disabilities may reasonably suggest to their schools that they are entitled to similar accommodations for their dietary restrictions.

The government was represented by U.S. Attorney Daniel Meyler and Michael Campion, chief of the Civil Rights Unit, of the U.S. Attorney’s Civil Division in Newark. A detailed complaint by a Rider student with celiac disease was received in July 2016. After an independent investigation, the US determined that Rider’s “policies and practices” did not comply with Title III of the ADA, and that there was no adequate plan to enable these students to fully enjoy Rider’s meal plans and food service. Rider had “improperly delegated responsibility for accommodating students with food-related disabilities to the service vendor".

Rider University has five thousand students on campuses in Lawrenceville and Princeton, N.J.

“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 in the press release. “This agreement will improve the experience of students with food allergy-related disabilities and help them to focus on getting an education.”

Rider disputes that it has violated the ADA but per the agreement decided “it is in its best interests to amicably resolve the investigation” without admitting liability, and has agreed to do the following:


Rider is required to name a person responsible for registering students with food-related disabilities and ensuring each is properly accommodated. The school’s website now directs students to Dr. Barbara Blandford, Director, Student Accessibility and Support Services (SSD). The settlement specifies that SSD will work together with the student to create a documented individualized plan, allowing updates as needed, and advocate for the student with the food service vendor to ensure requests are addressed. Reasonable accommodations must be provided, and a timely appeal process put in place. SSD must also allow students to be exempt from the mandatory meal plan. Appropriate communications to ensure awareness of this function among current and new students is specified in the agreement. Rider will make sure that any modification plan “is provided in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of the individual with the disability".


All registered eligible students will have the option to eat from the lines or to pre-order lunch and dinner meals. There will be a new full-time dietitian, designated safe food preparation areas, and good options available across campus.

Detailed actions include:

  • Label Allergens and Avoid Cross-Contamination: Notices will be posted in each dining hall in a 40-point font with food allergen warnings, and will identify the person in that location qualified to answer food-allergy related questions. Foods that are made without allergens will be labeled, nutritionally comparable to standard options, and prepared with proper protocols to reduce cross-contamination risk.