U.S. Department of Justice Agreement with Rider University

This case sets precedents for the rights of students with food allergies and celiac disease in a higher education setting.

In February 2019, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) reached a settlement with Rider University (Rider) under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The DOJ determined that Rider failed to comply with Title III of the ADA in several ways, including that it “did not provide adequate information on its website for students seeking to obtain reasonable modification...; has improperly delegated responsibility for accommodating students with [food-related] disabilities to a food service provider; and in certain instances Rider does not readily offer exemptions from its meal plans for students seeking exemption due to a food allergy or food-related disability.”

“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, and require the university to implement a variety of changes:

  • Identify a Student Services Disabilities (SSD) point person to register students, document individualized plans, and ensure requests are addressed in as integrated a setting as possible

  • Employ a full-time dietitian to help these students develop diets or meal plans  

  • Designate a safe food preparation area staffed by a dedicated chef and free of the top 8 allergens

  • Ensure foods that are made without allergens are labeled, nutritionally comparable, and properly prepared to reduce cross-contamination risk

  • Identify who is qualified to answer food-allergy related questions in each dining location

  • Provide an online pre-ordering service option for registered students

  • Post menus online clearly identifying allergen friendly options

  • Make food made without allergens available at all locations that accept the university’s meal plan

  • Implement a comprehensive food service training plan for all food service managers and staff

  • Train employees and contractors in Residents Life and SSD who have contact with students on their obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act

  • Clearly communicate new policies and protocols through emails, the website, and posting on bulletin boards

FARE, in collaboration with the Association on Higher Education and Disability, the National Celiac Association and Gluten Free Friends, is reaching out to colleges and universities to help make campuses more allergy-friendly. Learn how to get started