I just saw this article posted on Facebook, and I felt I had to respond. While I’m sure that most of us who are gluten intolerant have had at least one time when we felt left out, the treatment of this student really goes beyond that.
The student, JD, as he is referred to, had fund raised, along with his classmates, for a trip to Colonial Williamsburg. I have actually been there myself, along with my husband, but before I had dietary issues. We ate in the same tavern as this boy and his classmates. I wonder now what kind of treatment I would have received.
The article states:
Eleven-year-old J.D., as he is referred to in the suit, visited Colonial Williamsburg, the site meant to replicate life in the 18th century, in May. J.D. loves history, and had long looked forward to the trip, which he and classmates had been fundraising for since the first grade.
However, J.D.’s anticipation turned to anguish when the class sat down for lunch at Shields Tavern, an historical restaurant within the facility. According to court documents, J.D. has a severe gluten intolerance and is under the care of doctors at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, who have told him it’s critical he not eat even a trace of gluten, as it can cause a drop of blood pressure that can result in a loss of consciousness.
His father, who was a chaperone on the trip, advised the staff member assigned to their table that J.D. was not able to eat the food from the restaurant. The father then proceeded to unpack the lunch he brought for his son. The lawsuit contends that at this point the father was told that if his son was going to eat food from outside the restaurant, they would need to leave immediately.
Who among us has not taken some sort of food from home in a situation where you knew you did not have a safe option? I did this on a recent road trip. We stopped at several fast food places, and I brought a sandwich from home, while my husband (pre-Weight Watchers) ate the fast food. No one batted an eye. Why then, since JD’s classmates all ate the tavern food, was he forced outside? It wasn’t as if everyone brought their own food.
In fact, I have seen this “rule” on several websites for different places. It’s ludicrous, especially in this day and age where food allergies and intolerances are well recognized. Yes, those who don’t really have issues saying they do does cause some backlash for those of us who do. But, when is treating those who have food allergies differently going too far?
J.D. was forced to eat his meal outside, as it rained, while the rest of the class “learned about colonial life,” alleges the complaint, filed on July 19 in U.S. District Court in Norfolk. In late August, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation issued its official response, asking that the court dismiss the suit and denying any mistreatment or violation of laws.
Colonel Williamsburg says that the school was aware of the policy prohibiting outside food and that “the Tavern’s kitchen staff is professionally trained and regularly prepares quality meals to meet the needs of its customers who suffer from gluten and other allergies.” The foundation says the father refused the chef’s offer of a gluten-free meal and “stated that he did not trust the Tavern’s kitchen.”
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a place of public accommodation can’t exclude people on the basis of disability. However, the foundation says this family’s claim “is barred in whole or in part because plaintiff does not have a disability as defined by the laws under which he sues Colonial Williamsburg.”
I have certainly encountered staff who is “properly trained”. That statement is open to interpretation. And even if they are, there is still room for ignorance, laziness, and cross-contamination. As in JD’s case, in a life threatening situation, you’d best believe I would be bringing my own food. I don’t blame his father for not trusting the Tavern’s kitchen. Not one bit. Someone could die, or become seriously ill, because someone lied about how something was “gluten free”.
The article goes on to say:
This will be a key point of argument in this case. An amendment to the ADA, 2008’s ADA Amendments Act, broadened the definition of disability to include people whose impairment substantially limits a major life activity, such as eating or breathing, or major bodily functions like the immune or digestive systems.
“Before that change – people with food allergies were losing in the courts,” says Vargas. Still, not every case of exclusion warrants a lawsuit. “We are trying to be cautious in filing those cases that we can win, because we need to develop good law,” she explains. Although the foundation says otherwise, Vargas contends that J.D.’s case is compelling. “This wasn’t just about the meal. It was the opportunity to learn and to experience life in a tavern in Colonial Williamsburg,” she says. “It’s a strong case.”
She counters the Colonial Williamsburg response, saying it does not accurately portray the facts or the treatment the boy and his father received. “Ultimately, a jury will have to decide whether sending a child out in the rain because of his disability is what the Americans with Disabilities Act requires,” she says.
It’s great that the ADA has now amended their rules to include people with severe food allergies.
I will be following this case very closely as it unfolds.
In the interest of fairness, here is Colonial Williamsburg’s response.